Elizabeth Smith ’11 found herself watching for followers when she walked through the gates to her residential college.
In Silliman College room K12, suitemates hung a new set of curtains in their window — obscuring the view inside.
Jason Karl ’08 began taking his keys to the shower.
These students can no longer take the security of their rooms for granted. For the first time in the past several years, Yalies are adapting to a campus-wide spike in room thefts and burglaries by adjusting their daily routines and casting a watchful eye over their personal property.
“I’m sorry it took this increase in crime to make students aware, but more students are definitely more conscious now,” Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss said in an interview. “I wish we could be comfortable saying that the inside of colleges are safe, but that’s not the case.”
Although the Yale Police Department increased its presence on campus last week, many students interviewed said they are still nervous about the looming threat of robbery.
When compared to the same period last year, the opening month and a half of the 2007-2008 school year has seen an increase in the number of room thefts on campus. Since Sept. 4 — registration day for most Yalies — there have been 57 thefts and burglaries and six attempts reported to the YPD, according to crime logs.
In 2006, there were 99 reported burglaries and thefts, 52 of which took place in residence halls, according to the 2006 Yale University Report on Campus Security. Burglary and theft rates for January through August 2007 were comparable to the rates in 2006 — with 77 and 78, respectively, Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith previously told the News.
In recent weeks, students in Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Morse, Berkeley and Davenport colleges have reported incidents of theft or sightings of suspicious persons in their colleges, leading many students to worry about their well-being and the safety of their possessions.
Last weekend, Yale police made two theft-related arrests, and officials are currently investigating the suspects for their possible involvement with past burglaries in Timothy Dwight and Morse.
On Oct. 2, Morse students reported an attempted burglary as soon as it happened, and YPD officials were able to apprehend Jonathan Moore, 34, of New Haven, as he was exiting the college.
The spate of burglaries has served as an unpleasant reminder to students that the University is not a shield from the urban setting of New Haven. Students and staff interviewed said Yalies seem to be waking up to the range of risks the city poses to college students.
Sillimander Vivian Nereim ’09 said she thinks the Oct. 8 burglary in her suite underscores the risks of living in the heart of a city.
Mimi Wang ’09, one of Nereim’s suitemates, said the members of the suite were “on the careful side” when it came to room security. Recognizing the risks of living in a first-floor suite, the students discussed room safety over the summer, they said.
“I was always very conscious of safety beforehand,” said Mallory Irons ’09, who lives in Nereim’s suite. “But this made me a lot more conscious of leaving windows and doors closed.”
The suitemates said they think a damaged window screen allowed the burglar to enter the suite’s common room. The lack of protective window screens on interior courtyard windows is a weakness in college security, Krauss said.
“I, personally, am at the beginning of a campaign with the administration to get security screens inside college courtyards,” she said.
In some cases, the problems are not limited to first-floor rooms. Jason Karl ’08 said he and his suitemates assumed their fourth-floor suite in Timothy Dwight was relatively safe from burglars — until someone broke into their suite this month. Although nothing was stolen from their room, Karl said the experience has made him more vigilant.
Before the incident, Karl, a freshman counselor, said he routinely left the door open when he was in the suite in order to create a welcoming environment for freshmen.
The incident has made him more vigilant, Karl said, but he generally still feels comfortable living in New Haven.
“Yeah, it’s a nuisance, a change of habit taking your key to the bathroom,” he said. “But it’s not changing how I think about Yale and how I feel around campus.”
For freshmen, the crimes have been a rude awakening to the reality of life in New Haven. Timothy Dwight freshman counselor Anna Dechert ’08 said she was impressed by the overall poise of the freshman class after a man broke into a freshman room Oct. 7. No items were taken from the room, and the freshmen were quick to notify authorities, she said.
The recent crime wave may be positively impacting the safety habits of freshmen, Dechert said.
“They’ve been better about securing their rooms,” she said. “I think they’re still in that mind-set of ‘New Haven is a dangerous place.’”
In addition to locking doors and closing windows, students have turned to the Yale College Council for help in finding constructive solutions to reduce the frequency of break-ins. Anna Aleksandrova ’10 and Tomas Rua ’10, YCC representatives from Davenport and Trumbull are leading an effort to install individual locks on newly renovated colleges’ bedroom doors, many of which currently do not have locks.
“We don’t really see a good reason why there aren’t [locks on bedroom doors],” Aleksandrova said. “We’ve been talking to students and have heard that students are either neutral or definitely for the locks. Nobody’s against it.”
For Wang, the absence of locks hit home following the burglary of her suite.
“If one person leaves the [common room] door unlocked, that really does affect all the people in the suite,” Wang said. “My mom asked me, ‘Why didn’t you lock the door to your bedroom?’ and I was like, ‘I can’t.’”
YPD officials decided last week to increase the department’s presence around the recently burglarized colleges, Sgt. Steven Woznyk said. The YPD’s “command staff” of sergeants, lieutenants and the chief of police make the deployment decisions for the force, he said.
Yale security, which works closely with University police, has stationed personnel in Timothy Dwight, Woznyk said. He said police presence is often the most important aspect of crime prevention.
The YPD used similar methods this past summer when Yale Summer Session students staying in Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges witnessed an increase in thefts.
After upping its presence and conducting an investigation, the YPD arrested Donald Orange, 24, before the program’s end.
The YPD is also in regular contact with local law enforcement agencies, residential colleges and cultural houses to determine what they can do to allay their security concerns, Woznyk said.
The YPD monitors released prisoners and repeat offenders and tracks assaults and robberies, Woznyk said. These efforts contributed to the weekend arrest of the alleged Morse burglar, Donald Daluz, 35, who is a repeat offender, he said.
“We recognize that the strict policing of things like public drinking, panhandling and disorderly behavior reduces violent crime in the area,” Woznyk said. “The YPD takes ownership of these quality-of-life issues.”
Although it is too early to determine whether arrests made by the YPD last weekend will reduce burglaries on campus, Woznyk, for one, hopes their publicity will prompt an increase in something else: crime reporting.
“Even though the incident may be of minor value to the person affected,” Woznyk said, “the information may contribute to a major investigation.”