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Students retreat, robbers rejoice

By Chris Curme
On January 27, 2014

Nearly a dozen break-ins have been reported at off-campus student residences over Miami University's winter term and the number is expected to rise as students return for second semester and find evidence of criminal activity.

Oxford Police Department (OPD) public information officer Sgt. Jon Varley attributed the unusually high number to the additional three weeks most students were out of Oxford.

According to OPD, from Dec. 6 to Jan. 23, there were 11 reported break-ins. However, with vacant homes in emptied neighborhoods like the Mile Square and North End, break-ins are hard to detect over break. Also, the lack of home security systems at many student-rental properties compounds the problem of detection, according to Varley.

Junior Stephanie Chaffin was one victim of a break-in, along with her four housemates. Chaffin said she returned to Oxford in early January and had been home a few weeks when she and another roommate left the house for a few hours. When they returned, Chaffin said their back window had been broken, dead-bolted doors had been kicked down and they had been thoroughly robbed.

"Whoever broke in must have been watching us," Chaffin said. "And they knew when we left
the house."

In other instances, break-ins occur when a house is empty for an extended period of time. In these cases, tenants and OPD can be unaware for days that a house has been robbed.

"Sometimes [evidence of a break-in is] too subtle to spot, sometimes we'll have students find it," Varley said. "Maintenance crews will come and do work while students are on break and they'll discover it, and sometimes an officer
will discover it."

Cameras, laptops and televisions top the list of valuables stolen, and Varley said these are the expensive items students should bring home over long breaks, or at least move out of clear view from windows.

"They didn't make a mess of the house, they were really only after our belongings," Chaffin said. "They took what they could grab. They took my purse and my laptop and all of my jewelry."

In some cases, homeowners can provide serial and model numbers of the specific items stolen.
Pawn shops are required to keep a similar reference of what is sold, which the police use to track down the stolen items and trace them to a specific individual. However, Varley said most students are unable to be specific enough in their description of stolen items for police to
identify them elsewhere.

Chaffin, who had no renters insurance, said she paid for replacement items completely out of pocket. OPD is still working to track down the objects, but have yet to find anything. According to Chaffin, OPD was worried thieves may have taken the stolen objects across the nearby Indiana border, in which case there is little they can do.

"[OPD] took serial numbers of everything that was stolen," Chaffin said. "It was difficult; I had to look all of [the serial numbers] up from old receipts."

Opportunists are well aware of when Miami students are on break, and the allure of vacant properties
attracts criminals from all over the region, according to Varley. However, Varley said that is part of life in any college town, and that Oxford does not stand out in its
crime statistics.

While some thieves break down doors and smash glass to enter a dwelling, often they are able to sneak in through an unlocked
window or door. Varley said he encourages every student to ensure their home is secure before leaving.

"Our landlord fixed the door and the window," Chaffin said, adding that the tenants were not fined for the damage. "But it's the same kind of door they kicked in before and the same window they smashed."

Chaffin said she encourages people to register their electronics in the cloud, which allows them to be tracked if ever stolen.

In an effort to combat these events, OPD maintains a vacant house checklist. According to Varley, any Oxford resident, including renters, can report to OPD their address and dates over which their residence
will be vacant.

"If you're on the list, officers will come by and check your house several times during the period," Varley said, adding that one can add his or her residence to the list through the city's website.

As an increasing number of break-ins are discovered with the return of tenants, OPD has a difficult time finding suspects. According to Varley, since break-ins are usually discovered well after the fact, most evidence has been eroded by the elements, and any trails, like the weather, have gone cold.


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