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Students see ‘break-ins’ over winter break

BY NINA EARNEST | JANUARY 18, 2011 7:10 AM

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Megan Gubbels’ bedroom still smells of wet paint. The photographic evidence is there, too: a faint, rectangular outline remains on one freshly covered wall in the University of Iowa sophomore’s bedroom, where the bed was once placed.

Just a few days ago, the wall sported a huge hole — an opening someone made to break into her apartment.

Gubbels said she was shocked when her roommate’s boyfriend called on Jan. 8 to tell her someone sawed through her wall from inside an attached storage closet.

“I asked if he was kidding,” the 20-year-old said. “He wasn’t.”

Break-ins are more likely to occur in off-campus neighborhoods with high student populations over winter break, said Iowa City police Lt. Bill Campbell. Though no exact numbers of burglaries in student residences were available Monday, police said this winter was no exception.

“There are people out there who are very opportunistic,” Campbell said. “And they’re very good at it.”

Many students are gone and fewer residents are able to watch for suspicious behavior that can lead to a burglary, he said.



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No one living in Gubbels’ Gilbert Street apartment was in town when the robbery took place, and they still don’t know when the burglary occurred.

Burglars reportedly entered through the hole — nearly 21⁄2 feet tall and 2 feet wide — and crawled over Gubbels bed. They presumably broke into the locked storage closet in the roommates’ hallway to reach the apartment.

Roughly $2,000 worth of the four roommates’ property is gone, including an iPod, two flat-screen TVs, an Xbox, video games, a DVD player, and DVDs.

Kaitlin O’Brien, one of Gubbels’ roommates, said she found the experience unsettling.

“I wondered how long they were there, what they went through,” the 19-year-old UI sophomore said. “It’s just weird to know someone was going through your stuff.”

The number of burglaries during the 2010-11 winter break didn’t seem to increase compared with previous years, said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton, but at least seven car burglaries occurred in traditionally student-populated off-campus areas over break, including the areas around South Johnson and Dodge Streets.

The outbreak of car burglaries is historically unrelated to student absence over break, Campbell said. Usually a few people are engaging in the activity in a short time frame.

But student neighborhood burglaries don’t just occur during breaks, Brotherton said.

Incidents of homes entered by smashed doors are more common during winter break, but the anonymity of an apartment building gives burglars the chance to check for unlocked doors without raising suspicion.

One household member could be in the home and hear a disturbance and think it’s a roommate, Brotherton said, only to discover something missing later on.

“It’s the perfect scene for the burglaries and thieves,” Brotherton said.

But for Gubbels and O’Brien, locking the door likely wouldn’t have kept burglars out.

“No matter what, there was nothing we could have done about it,” O’Brien said.


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