There have been many break-ins reported in Lehigh students' off-campus residences. The Lehigh Police Department has been working with the Bethlehem Police Department to fix this issue. (Brandon Jia/B&W Staff)

Off-campus burglaries are on the rise

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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.

At least two other off-campus student housing break-ins have been documented this semester.

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.

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1 Comment

  1. Kimberly Gentzlinger on

    It’s so frustrating that this is still a problem at Lehigh. I was robbed twice while I lived off-campus, with another 3rd attempted robbery.

    The first time was during spring break so we were all away. All the doors and windows were locked, so the robbers just took a battering ram to our basement door. They then used our kitchen knives to cut around our bedroom door locks. They stole so much from us that year, and nothing ever came of it.

    The second time was when I was staying over at a friends house and someone left to go next door and the thief just walked right in to the house while the door was unlocked, walked into the room I was sleeping in and stole my laptop, a friends laptop, and my wallet. Then I woke up and he just said, “..Sorry wrong room..” and ran out of the building with our things.

    The third attempted robbery was when we notice someone had tried to climb up our metal door awning to see if an upstairs window was unlocked, but the awning gave way on them.

    I really wish Lehigh would try harder to do something about the crime off-campus, I graduated in 2012 and it sounds like nothing has changed.

    I will say though I think the campus police do a great job, I remember while I was at school they were constantly patrolling off-campus and on-campus and they were always looking out for students safety. I just wish there was something else Lehigh could do for the off-campus crime.

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