Burglars have pilfered valuables from nearly 20 Isla Vista residences over the past two weeks, all without breaking a single window or picking a single lock.
Lt. Sol Linver of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol (IVFP) said that in each of the 18 burglaries reported in the past two weeks, the perpetrators entered the homes through open or unlocked doors or windows. In some cases, they removed the screens of windows left ajar, but Linver said that was the most force used in any of the incidents. Linver said the burglars mostly went after easily portable, high-value items like laptops, mp3 players and digital cameras.
Linver said an overwhelming percentage of the burglaries that occur in I.V. could easily be prevented if residents made sure to secure all doors and windows before leaving the house. He said local burglars are generally looking for the easiest possible targets and rarely bother trying to force their way into homes.
“Burglars are criminals of opportunity,” Linver said. “The easier you make it for them, the worse it will be.”
Since most of the houses in I.V. have multiple occupants – often college students – many residents forego the hassle of locking doors and windows between classes, especially when the weather is warm.
“There are people who come out here to prey on kids,” Linver said. “This is what you could call a ‘target-rich environment.’ There’s a very open atmosphere here. Open doors and windows are commonplace – that’s I.V.”
Linver said he strongly suggests that students make sure all of their housemates have a key to the house and institute a “last person out locks the doors and windows” rule. For those who are worried about their homes heating up on warmer days with the windows closed, Linver said he feels it is a small price to pay for keeping belongings safe.
“The rooms may get a little warm, but buy a fan,” Linver said. “A fan’s going to cost you 30 bucks, while a laptop is going to cost you $1,000 plus.”
Linver said several of the recent burglaries have occurred during parties, when uninvited guests have walked into back rooms and snuck out of the houses carrying whatever valuables they could. He said I.V. residents who are hosting parties should be sure to hide expensive items and lock their rooms if possible, and do their best to regulate who enters the party.
While locking doors and windows is the best way to keep out burglars looking for easy targets, Linver said anyone who is troubled by the presence of an unknown person in or around their home can call the IVFP without fear of penalty for a false alarm.
“Don’t hesitate to call the foot patrol if you see something suspicious,” Linver said. “We would very much prefer to go out on a false alarm than let your house get burglarized.”
In the event that someone loses property to a burglar and the stolen items are recovered, Linver said the victim is required to identify his or her property before it can be returned. Linver said anything unique about an item – ranging from a serial number to damage or wear in a certain place – can help detectives return recovered property to its rightful owner.
“Write down the serial numbers of your laptop and other valuable items, and take pictures of your property,” Linver said. “It would make recovery a lot easier.”
Linver said laptops often contain personal information that can link them to their owners, but he said this can also increase the risk of identity theft. For those who use services like online banking and store sensitive data on their laptops, Linver said he recommends purchasing a program that gives more security than the operating system’s basic password.
“As a college student, if you lose your laptop that’s a huge problem,” Linver said. “Besides the physical loss of the computer itself, there is the loss of information inside as well.”
Jonathan Jazayeri, a sophomore pharmacology major, said his room was burglarized while he and his roommate were watching television in their house on the 6600 block of Sabado Tarde at around 2 a.m. on Sunday.
Jazayeri said the light in the room was on and two other housemates were home, but the perpetrator or perpetrators still removed the screen from the open bedroom window and made off with two laptops, a PlayStation 2, several video games and two backpacks.
“You would think that if someone was going to break in, they would do it when no one is home or everyone is asleep,” Jazayeri said. “With the lights on and people home and everything, whoever came into the house had to be very ballsy.”
Jazayeri said the incident has changed his perception about the safety of living in I.V. He said everyone in the house will be careful to lock the doors and close the windows from now on, and he said he even went to Home Depot on Monday to buy wooden dowels to bar the windows that have relatively unreliable locks.
“It was shocking,” Jazayeri said. “It made us realize that anyone at any time could get broken into, if they leave a window open.”
Linver said that while the number of recent burglaries may be startling to some, it is not unusually high for the first few weeks of school because of the large number of students moving into I.V. who are unaware of the danger of leaving their houses open or unlocked.
Linver said law enforcement is presently unable to get a clear idea as to how many perpetrators may be responsible for the burglaries. He said one possible connection is the use of victims’ backpacks to transport stolen goods, but he said there is usually not enough evidence at the crime scenes to provide many leads.
“You can’t determine any sort of M.O. here,” Linver said. “This could be one or two people, or a group of people.”
Deputy Mark Hammill of the IVFP, who has dealt with several of the burglary cases, said the burglars’ use of school backpacks and unlocked doors can make it difficult for officers on the street to distinguish between residents and possible criminals.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, because you don’t know who is supposed to be here and who isn’t,” Hammill said.
Hammill said the IVFP will continue to watch for prowlers and other suspicious activity around I.V. homes, but he said the residents must take the first step by securing their doors and windows. Hammill said residents should also confront people who wander into their homes uninvited, and notify police if they appear to be searching for items to steal.
“People wander in and out of residences all the time,” Hammill said. “It’s easy to walk into an apartment unchallenged.”