IC officials: break-ins spike over winter break


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Iowa City police say students should take several steps to ensure the safety of their residences before they leave for winter break.

"We always see a rise in break-ins when the students are gone," said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton, and many of the burglaries that occur are not reported right away because of many residents' absence. "What happens is people will return and say that a break-in occurred."

The statistics demonstrate her point. Iowa City police records indicate that during December 2010 and January 2011, residents reported 39 burglaries. Between December 2009 and January 2010, they reported 32 break-ins.

So this year, Iowa City police are encouraging residents to make sure their homes are secure — but that doesn't mean merely locking doors and windows.

Iowa City Crime Prevention Officer Jorey Bailey said he wants residents who will be absent during the break to make sure their residence looks "lived-in."

"We just want things to look normal," said Bailey, noting that one of the most important things residents can do is put holds on their mail during the break.

"Piles of mail or newspapers piled outside the door, that's not normal," he said. "The Post Office will hold mail, just so it's not piling up."

Bailey said this often-overlooked step is as simple as going to the Post Office, 400 S. Clinton St., and requesting a hold.

Both Brotherton and Bailey said downtown apartments are a major target for opportunity thefts.

"What we see a lot is people don't lock their main door because there's so many apartments with numerous bedrooms," Brotherton said. "The most important part is lock the main door and have your key."

Bailey agreed.

"The No. 1 thing we see that leads to a lot of the burglaries is [residents] not locking their doors," Bailey said. "Burglars check for opportunity; it just takes the one that is unlocked to provide that opportunity."

Brotherton said many thieves check out downtown apartment buildings during the break — knowing residents have likely left doors unlocked — and they often gain entry to apartments with ease.

"The thieves around here have figured that out, so they'll just go around and try doors," she said.

Aside from locking their doors, Brotherton said, residents can take several steps to minimize their loss in the event of a break-in while they're away. She said one of the most important steps is to not leave expensive items out in the open.

"We also encourage people who're leaving for break to take their laptop with them," she said. "If you can undo the game system and put it somewhere, do it. Don't leave smaller electronics out, like iPods and laptops; they're going to come in and swipe that stuff."

Director of UI Residence Life Kate Fitzgerald said for students living in the dorms, ensuring security is less of an issue.

"All student rooms are checked by RAs after closing on Saturday to make certain windows and doors are locked," she said, and residence-hall security is consistent, even though the students are absent.

"We have [UI police] do rounds throughout break just as they do year-round," she said. "They walk every floor numerous times each night."

Fitzgerald also said student access to closed residence halls is restricted during the break.

"We keep 50 percent of our halls open," she said. "Student Prox cards are turned off so they cannot access the [closed] halls."

The buildings that will remain open are Mayflower, Parklawn, Hawk Ridge 3, Daum, Centerstone, and Hillcrest.

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