A number of burglaries have occurred at Lehigh students’ off-campus houses recently, according to an email sent by Lehigh University Police Chief Jason Schiffer.
Schiffer said in the email that LUPD has been working with Bethlehem Police Department to investigate “several” burglaries of off-campus houses, and Bethlehem Police charged one man over spring break who they believe to be one of the individuals responsible.
While the March 20 email stated that in many cases there was no evidence of forced entry, a forced entry burglary happened a few days after the email was sent.
An off-campus house on Webster Street was broken into despite all the doors and windows being locked. All of the residents were asleep upstairs. Rachael Grobman, ’19, Ruthie Advokat, ’19, and their roommates woke up on March 24 to find two computers and a backpack missing from their dining room table.
While they triple checked that their doors were locked the night before, they were unlocked the next morning.
“You could tell the person used something like a crowbar to get in since the door was locked,” Grobman said.
After reporting the missing items, BPD contacted the students and said it was a cold case unless they got a lead, and LUPD can only do so much.
“They told me it seems no one’s digging into this, and it’s been happening to a lot of people,” Advokat said.
LUPD has a jurisdiction issue, stating what they can and can’t do when it comes to cases of students who live off campus.
“Any enforcement or investigative services have to be done by the City of Bethlehem, so it’s got to be a joint venture between both departments and the people in the community to help out in order to make it a safer place,” said Assistant LUPD Chief Christopher Houtz.
Houtz said LUPD is available to do a security survey at any property if requested to do so. An officer will go to the property and give the residents recommendations that they can go back to their landlord with in order to improve the safety of the property, such as adding motion-sensored spotlights or locks.
“Crime can happen literally anywhere, so don’t make yourself a victim,” Houtz said.
LUPD generally finds that the people who commit these crimes are looking for easy targets, so if the door is locked they’re less likely to try to break in, Houtz said.
Since the robbery, Grobman and Advokat installed a camera in their house and added chain locks to all their doors.
“It’s mildly frustrating that they’re telling us to keep our doors locked,” Advokat said. “It seems like the only safety precaution we can take isn’t effective in the slightest.”
Though the residents were grateful to be unharmed and have most of their important documents saved to iCloud or Google Drive, they said they do not feel safe.
“There’s an investigation, but say they find the person,” Grobman said. “What is that going to do? We have no peace of mind and we’re nervous in the house. You feel violated.”
Houtz said through the years, LUPD has seen streams of burglaries and will continue to work in order to ensure the protection of Lehigh students.