October 6, 2016

String of Break-ins at Same Apartment Building on 54th

Fourth-year Amanda Wallbrink came back to her apartment on the 5400 block of South University Avenue around 3:15 p.m. last Wednesday to find her closet and drawers open and her belongings dumped all over the floor. When she went to alert other tenants in the building, who are all undergraduates, she found out that every floor of the 3-story-6-unit building had experienced a break-in in the past three weeks.

The method of burglary has been consistent. The burglar, or burglars, entered by breaking through the back door screen on each individual apartment’s back porch and unlocking it from the inside.

University spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus told The Maroon that according to the Chicago Police Department (CPD), there was a break-in in the basement four weeks ago. Around September 10, an apartment on the first floor was burglarized. On September 26, two days before the break-in on Wallbrink’s third-floor apartment, a man walked into the kitchen of a second-floor apartment, was confronted by a tenant, and ran away through the back door, according to Shilpa Mantri, another tenant in the building.

Wallbrink reported the case to University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) and CPD immediately after she got home. “UCPD was pretty helpful. They responded quickly,” Wallbrink said. On Monday, CPD sent officers to collect fingerprints but weren't able to pull any full prints, according to Wallbrink.

Mantri lives on the first floor. The apartment was left empty after a summer subletter left about a week before O-Week. When the subletter came back after a week, she noticed that the doors and windows were open. Every room except for Mantri’s, which had a lock, was entirely searched through. When Mantri’s roommates moved back in, one of them found her iPhone and jewelry taken.

Although the case was reported to UCPD and the landlord was informed, Mantri said that she and her roommates did not receive much help, if any. According to her, the landlords did not believe that a burglary had taken place and did not take any measure to increase security measures before the other break-ins that happened about two weeks later. The police came in but did not find any evidence for a break-in and consequently did not take any further action, Mantri said.

“It feels a little scary to know that…our apartment is so vulnerable…. You never think that this could actually happen to you. That’s what hit us the most,” Mantri said.

The landlords said they are taking the rash of burglaries seriously. One of the landlords, Betsy Newton, also said that they inspected the apartment right away and immediately met with the UCPD. The police could not take a report from them since there was no physical evidence available or report of actual loss but suggested that the tenant and subletter report to the CPD once they had established that something had been taken. 

“We kept an open mind on the subject and offered to help in any way we could.... We hope we did not sound unreasonably skeptical to the 1N tenant when informed of a possible unlawful entry (she relied on a report from a subletter, who we did not know, because she was out of town),” Newton wrote in an e-mail.

The landlords said that they encourage their tenants to notify the CPD more and hope that they take more control of the situation. According to the other landlord, Harold Newton, this year has been totally unique; there might have been only one burglary in the last ten years. “In almost all of these cases [of the past few weeks], if not all, the students themselves probably could have been a little bit more careful,” Harold Newton said.

A few days ago, a new camera was installed. “We saw there was an article on the Hyde Park Herald on September 30 in which the Chicago police said there were a lot more incidents, and they listed some of the locations…. We are going to follow all of the recommendations of the Chicago police,” Newton said. The CPD suggested in the article that residents keep the perimeter of property well lit and windows and doors secured, and recommended video surveillance and immediately repairing any broken windows, doors, or locks. 

“We now have heightened awareness, and think more of our tenants do as well.... We think the increase in property crime in Hyde Park student buildings has not been much reported (other than the 9/30/16 Hyde Park Herald article),” Betsy Newton said.