Warm weather at fault for increase in burglaries

BY DORA GROTE | JANUARY 24, 2012 7:20 AM

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Alyssa Makropoulos returned to her apartment after winter break to discover that several hundred dollars of electronics had been stolen. One of her windows had a sliced screen.

"We were really bummed that they took our stuff, but it was more weird that they were in our apartment," the University of Iowa junior said.

Makropoulos and her roommates lost a TV, a music player, Wii controllers, and luggage. Iowa City police statistics show this was one of 51 Iowa City residential burglaries committed between December 2011 and Jan. 17 — an increase of 11 reported burglaries over the same time last year. Thirty-two burglaries were committed over the time in 2009-2010.

While the warm weather at the start of the year brought out shorts and T-shirts, police officials said it may have brought out criminals as well.

"Criminals are no different from anyone else," said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton. "If we're having a snowstorm, they're not going to be as active. [This year's burglaries are] not a major increase, but it could be up because the weather was nicer."

It is difficult to determine whether the number of break-ins during winter break is a true increase or decrease, she said, because many residents are reluctant to report thefts.

Though Makropoulos and her roommates reported the burglaries, police told her most stolen items are usually sold by the time the criminals are caught. She said she's now more vigilant to prevent break-ins.

"They went in through the window and cut the screen," she said. "When I got home, I could tell they went out the front door, because it was open and our doors are rarely unlocked. Now, we have a wooden bar that we put on our window to prevent people from entering."

Iowa City police Crime Prevention Officer Jorey Bailey said it is not unusual to see an increase in crime during winter break while so many residents are away.

"Crime is based on opportunity," he said. "We see way too many buildings with the doors unlocked, which increases the chances for burglaries."

Brotherton said criminals tend to steal small items because they are easier to hide and less likely to attract attention.

"Buglaries happen when you leave the small electronics such as iPads, laptops, and gaming systems," she said. "Those are easy to grab and easy to conceal. People are going to look really suspicious carrying a really big TV."

Some apartment companies have taken extensive precautions to ensure safety while their tenants are gone.

"We're not affected because we monitor all our buildings, and we do routine checks," said Mike Oliveira, the general manager of Prestige Properties.

Oliveira said apartments that are not secure and without outside security lights are more likely to be broken into.

Though the Iowa City police increase patrols during winter break, Bailey said, officers cannot be in numerous places at the same time.

Brotherton said burglars know how to victimize their targets.

"Unfortunately, there are always people who choose [crime] for their profession," she said. "We see it as a problem that we are continuing to address."

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