Michael Young was the victim of a burglary last year. After one of his roommates accidentally left their front door unlocked, an intruder came in and attempted to steal some of his easy selling possessions. Young’s girlfriend happened to walk in on the invasion as it was happening, which is something that a lot of victims of theft don’t have the luxury of stumbling upon.
Over the last school term, Autzen Stadium and its surrounding areas have seen the same amount of crimes, such as thefts and burglaries that Officer Rodney Thrower of the Eugene Police Department attributes to the number of students living near the area. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” he says.
The “barrel” Thrower mentioned is south I-105 side of Harlow neighborhood, which students make up 47 percent of the population according to City-Data. He says students can be forgetful when it comes to locking up and hiding their possessions, “You see spikes in property crimes when students come and go. Our Crime Prevention Unit has spent some time where they go out and work with Chase Village,” he says. Chase Village is the largest complex in the area and is directly across the street from the Autzen grounds.
Thrower knows that the end of this upcoming school term will be the worst for student burglaries, “Christmas break is going to be huge to go out and get burglarizes,” he says, “Because history has shown that students will forget to lock their front door.”
According to a survey done in 2011 by EPD, 2010 saw a combination of 736 personal, property and behavioral crimes occur in the Harlow neighborhood, which includes the area surrounding Autzen. Thrower says spikes in crime occur when students come and go for breaks or holidays.
The student population isn’t restricted to Thrower’s “barrel” however, with a huge number of student populations living in and around campus, he says it even spills over onto the non-student housing side of the I-105 as well, and the reason could be attributed to Alton Baker Park.
“It’s relatively easy for people to go unseen and unbothered in the park and river trail system, because of the size of the area, all of the tree and brush cover, the relative lack of lighting, and the fact that there are not that many people around,” says University of Oregon Police Department Officer Kelly McIver, “The area is so large and the paths so winding through the brush and trees that patrolling it effectively is difficult.” In the last month, Spot Crime reported eight instances of crime in and near the park, four of which being thefts of some kind.
The park has three bridges that allow access across the Willamette River from campus or downtown Eugene into the park, along with a number of areas that McIver says can hide a group of people fairly easily.
“I think would be naïve to say that it’s not being utilized,” Thrower says about the park. He says that it’s hard for a new officer to be familiar with the park if he chases a criminal into it. What someone may think is a path leading to a dead end, he says, may turn out to be a path to a bridge.
A lot of the student population living in the apartments uses the trails and footbridge that cut through the park on a daily basis, the same trails that have seen incidents in the past such as robberies, sexual and violent assaults.
In his college days, Thrower says he participated in a program through his university that allowed certain students, after a careful background check, to be responsible for walking people home at night. He says that a similar program at the UO is something that could potentially bring down the level of criminal incidents in the area, as the service would act as a deterrent to crime.
The service Thrower suggests can’t prevent burglaries to cars and apartments in the area, but EPD has provided a service of going door to door to talk with residents about how to be responsible with their possessions by locking doors and hiding valuables.
Chase Village assistant manager Ariel Duplant agrees that the park could be an outlet for criminals, but he says the statistics of burglary in the neighborhood as a whole makes the issue larger than just those areas close to the park.
“We’re the biggest property and the biggest name, so our name gets thrown out a lot when property crime happens in this neighborhood,” Duplant says. He says that proportionally, as in the amount of burglaries compared to the amount of apartments, Chase Village is getting burglarized just as hard as other facilities. “I say (crime’s) about average this year, it hasn’t been bad, but I wouldn’t call it great either.”
Duplant explained that along with having an internal security team that has patrolled the grounds every night for the past 12 years, Chase Village has been working with Officer Steve Chambers of EPD to find a way to reduce crime. Representatives from Chase Village as well as Ducks’ Village, Stadium Park and a number of other apartments in the area all meet with Chambers once a term, usually at the beginning of a new school term to discuss possible solutions and ideas to the area’s crime.
Like Thrower, Duplant agrees that the number one cause for crime is the students and their material possessions such as iPods and laptops that are easy sellers at pawnshops. Yet Duplant doesn’t see students’ behavior changing anytime soon. Instead he hopes the jail system will change in order to reduce crime. “There just aren’t enough consequences for criminals,” Duplant says. He warns other complexes when he spots familiar criminal offenders in the area.
A criminal being released repeatedly doesn’t send the message that Thrower says should be established not only in the criminal justice system but with students as well. “Maybe sending a kid home six weeks early from school would send the right message,” Thrower says about repeat criminal offenders who are also students. *See Sidebar
Both Thrower and Duplant agree that there should be more school involvement on this issue, such as maybe allowing UOPD to patrol the area. Under current jurisdictions, UOPD can’t patrol outside of campus, and for that to happen, McIver says UOPD would need more officers and for some bills to pass, but that he just doesn’t see it happening any time soon.
Sometimes it takes a little vigilantism to protect your things, at least that is what Young’s girlfriend thought. After being spotted, the robber fled with some possessions, only to be surprised to find Young’s girlfriend right on his tail. She chased him down and tackled him to ground, which forced him to drop a few laptops and a television. Young was fortunate the robber only escaped with a camera, which is something many student victims of theft can’t relate to.
Thrower and McIver both agree with Duplant and attribute the amount of crime in the student housing areas of Harlow neighborhood to the lack of consequences handed down on criminals that commit burglary and other similar crimes. Pointing to a recent Register Guard article about releasing a criminal after a few days, Duplant says that this happens more often than not.
“You put someone in jail for burglarizing somebody’s house, the jail can’t hold them so they’re back out,” Thrower says. “If they only stay in jail for a day, there isn’t anything stopping them from doing it again.”
Thrower speculates the amount of burglaries in the area can be linked to criminals who need money either to survive or feed drug addictions, even explaining that a robbery of loose change from a student’s car could be a big score.
“Given the limited capacity of our local courts and jail, most criminals are quickly released, if they are ever jailed at all, and can return to whatever area is the most comfortable to them,” McIver says.
With the worst criminal offenders occupying most of the beds in Lane County Jail, there simply isn’t enough room to house every offender. “Law enforcement can increase its presence in a given area, and for a time potential criminals will avoid that area. But without massive increases in law enforcement staffing, which is not practical to our communities given the cost, the effects are generally temporary,” McIver added.