Students should be aware of their surroundings, University police say

By Brittney Nadler

Though it’s been a “quiet semester” for the University of Illinois Police Department, officers have noticed trends in certain safety areas that students should be aware of. To stay safe, especially in the weeks leading to winter break, officers recommend that students remain aware of their surroundings.

Unattended property and theft

The No. 1 crime on campus is theft, said Deputy Chief of UIPD Skip Frost. Many students have had laptops, cellphones and iPods stolen after leaving them unattended for a short period of time.

“People who go into CRCE or the ARC or the libraries and put things in lockers but don’t lock it — nobody deserves to be a victim, but that’s really a bad idea,” Frost said. “There are people who will commit those crimes if given that easy an opportunity.”

Frost said many officers have dealt with car burglary cases where the victim didn’t lock their car doors or have left valuable items in the car in plain sight, which could prompt robbers to break a window and steal.

“You locked your door, but you’re not really practicing good crime prevention there because you left (items) where everybody could see it,” Frost said. “That’s a personal safety issue.” 

Distracted students

Students who are distracted by their phones and music when walking or biking are risking their safety and increasing their chances of becoming victims, Frost said.

“You can go out and stand on any street corner on this campus during any hour … and watch people who are literally (texting) as they’re in traffic,” he said. “Or they’ve got their earbuds in — they don’t turn their head, look left or right when they step out into traffic.”

He also described some bicyclists as “completely tuned out.” 

Safety is further compromised when alcohol is factored in and students are unaware of where they are headed and don’t remember how they got there.

The department advises students to be in tune with their surroundings at all times. 

Campus resources

At night, students should use campus resources such as the Champaign-Urbana MTD buses, SafeRides and SafeWalks to ensure a safe way home. 

“A lot of people get zeroed in on (SafeRides) when in reality, all they’ve got to do is walk 15 feet to catch a bus,” Frost said. “The buses are a very safe mode of transportation. We get very few calls for service on the bus.”

All buses are equipped with security cameras, and Frost said many people are aware of that, which makes the buses even safer. 

“Just watch out for each other,” said Chief of Police Jeff Christensen. “(If) you see someone that’s being followed or somebody’s snooping around somebody else’s property, or maybe somebody’s too intoxicated and they need help getting home, give us a call. That’s what we’re here for.”

Lt. Matt Myrick added that students should not assume somebody else is going to make the call — if everyone makes that assumption, no one will call.

Lt. Tony Brown said walking with a group of friends is also a good resource.

Tips for winter break

The department sees a rise in burglaries, particularly in apartment complexes around campus, before and during winter break when “no one’s around, so it gives people plenty of time to do whatever they want to do,” Brown said. 

Students should take all valuables home with them over break but should not put the items in a car the night before leaving campus. While it may be convenient, potential robbers may notice the items and break into your car, Frost said.

“If you load up your 50-inch flatscreen and your Toshiba laptop … in the car, people walk by and go, ‘Hmm, now I could break into one car and make several thousand dollars pretty quickly by stealing all these things,’” Frost said. 

To keep your apartment safe, buy a timed light so that it looks like someone is still residing there, and ask neighbors to pick up newspapers and mail, Frost recommended.

“If you are here during break, … you need to be even more alert because less people being around means there’s even more opportunity to become a victim of crime,” Christensen said. 

For more safety tips, visit police.illinois.edu.

“I’ve heard several students say it’s scary over break because there’s just not so many people around,” Frost said. “At least during break you can see trouble coming. That is, if you’re paying attention.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]