Amherst police cite prevention efforts in thwarting break-ins at student homes during winter break
AMHERST — In what Amherst’s police chief describes as unprecedented, returning University of Massachusetts students filed no reports of break-ins at their off-campus homes during the recent winter vacation.
“Hopefully this is a good sign that word is getting out that people are not leaving valuables behind, so there is nothing to take,” said Police Chief Scott Livingstone.
Livingstone cited department statistics showing that between Dec. 15 and Tuesday, no student residents reported break-ins to their homes, and just four others residents during that period notified police about forced entries to their dwellings.
During the same time frame last year, six students reported break-ins and nine break-ins in total were investigated by police. Over the previous five years, dating from Dec. 15, 2007 to Feb. 5, 2012, police averaged 7.2 student break-ins and 13.8 total break-ins during the winter break, and never fewer than five students reported forced entry to their homes while they were away from town.
The lack of break-ins during winter break fits a general trend in which break-ins have been going down, a 58 percent drop in two years. Last year, just 85 break-ins were reported, compared to 134 in 2011 and 204 in 2010.
Livingstone said it is possible that solving earlier break-ins has also reduced the number currently taking place. When a string of break-ins occurred in 2009, Amherst police worked with other police departments and the district attorney’s office to bring some alleged perpetrators to justice.
Residents have also gotten better at contacting police when they see suspicious people and vehicles in their neighborhoods, Livingstone said.
Livingstone attributed the lack of break-ins over winter recess to the STOP program, in which police officers work to educate students prior to extended leaves, such as intersession and the Thanksgiving and spring recesses, to take valuables with them, specifically smartphones, laptops and jewelry.
The department works with the UMass dean of students office to get the message directly to those living off campus, he said.
Those living on the UMass campus also returned to find their dorm rooms intact.
“We feel like we had a successful break,” said UMass Deputy Police Chief Patrick Archbald. “Neither students who live on campus or academic areas were significantly affected.”
Archbald said this may be attributed, in part, to the influx of cameras in dormitories, which have become a forensic tool as the image quality has improved and the speed with which officers can identify suspects has increased.
Like Amherst, the university has its own prevention initiative, called Like It, Lock It, Keep It.
During the winter break, Archbald said officers conducted targeted patrols in the Southwest area of campus, where the largest number of students live during the academic year.
Amherst police also put unmarked cruisers and foot patrols in areas where students make their homes, such as apartment complexes and neighborhoods near the university campus. While these officers periodically found broken windows and what appeared to be signs of break-ins, all were considered old damage or doors and windows accidentally left open.
Livingstone said the department has been able to use statistics compiled by crime analyst Amber Sullivan to better direct patrols into areas where break-ins have traditionally occurred. This keeps the department ahead of burglars.
“Anytime we can gain an edge is beneficial to us,” Livingstone said.