Before you start thinking I’m going to be writing about the excellent surf we had a couple of days ago, or the incredible view from the cliffs as you look towards the Channel Islands, let me tell you straight out that Isla Vista’s number 1 status is not a good thing. I.V. received the dubious honor of being named the most dangerous neighborhood in the entire nation for property crime. Local disc jockeys have been talking about it. My Facebook friends have posted comments about it. And my I.V. e-mail group sent me a link to it.
WalletPop, a website owned by AOLInc., posted a list of the most dangerous neighborhoods for property crime. According to information compiled by Dr. Andrew Schiller for NeighborhoodScout.com, based on FBI crime data and a proprietary computer model, you have about a one-in-one chance of being the victim of a property crime in I.V. We came in ahead of Austin, Texas; Huntsville, Alabama; and Berkeley, California.
Sergeant Erik Raney of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, who is the acting station lieutenant for the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, said, “It is hard to take the data as gospel.” He said that the Sheriff’s department submits crime statistics on a quarterly basis to the FBI for distinct areas, such as the City of Goleta; but Isla Vista statistics are lumped in together with other unincorporated areas. According to the Neighborhood Scout website, the FBI data is then placed in a computer modeling program and voila, the results are produced. “I’d be more inclined to believe their statistics if they were using raw data,” Raney said. He added, “How can I.V. and Austin be compared?”
But while people might question the idea that I.V. could possibly be the most dangerous place for property crime in the nation, you know that there is a problem with property theft if you’ve lived in the area for any length of time. It isn’t the break-into-your-house variety, or the use-acid-to-melt-your-bike-lock version found in other cities. It’s the if-you-leave-it-unlocked-I’ll-take-it variety.
While Raney questioned the way the top-15 list was compiled, he conceded that “Property crime is a huge problem in I.V.” Ninety percent of the burglaries and thefts are the result of people leaving their doors unlocked, he said. Only 10 percent were breaking and entering. From interviewing criminals who have been caught, law enforcement personnel found that “If they (thieves) came across a locked door, they would move on,” Raney said.
The answer is simple then, right? Just lock your door, and you can keep your iPhone, iPod, or laptop safe. Not so easy in I.V.
“The biggest hurdle … with residential burglaries is an environment with multiple residents and an open-door policy,” Raney said.
Victoria Hadeler, a senior at UCSB, has had two computers and numerous bikes stolen in the past few years. She knows firsthand what it is like to live with the open-door environment. “Once I had my computer stolen while I was in my room sleeping,” she said. One of her roommates on Del Playa had left the door unlocked. She never found out who took her computer, and it was never recovered.
Another time she and her roommates heard noises in another room of their house. She looked outside and saw a man in their courtyard. “I yelled, ‘Hello, what are you doing?’ He acted confused,” Hadeler said. She didn’t see him carrying anything, but her roommate had called the police. When the police caught the young man he had Hadeler’s computer.
These aren’t the only items Hadeler’s had lifted. She also lost four bikes in her time at UCSB. She said her bikes were stolen when she was at a party and didn’t lock her bike up properly. These items were never recovered.
According to data compiled by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department for the Isla Vista area, in the first six months of 2009 there were 68 residential burglaries reported, seven commercial burglaries, 103 thefts from locked vehicles, and 77 bikes stolen. In 2008, there were 96 residential burglaries, three commercial burglaries, 108 thefts from locked vehicles, and 202 bikes stolen.
According to Raney, most property crimes are reported. He said that students might come in to the foot patrol up to a month after the crime to file a report because their parents told them to, or they need it for insurance purposes. “The majority of those crimes do get reported,” he said.
While a majority get reported, a minority get cleared. Of the 96 residential burglaries in 2008, only 10 were cleared. Of the 202 bicycles stolen, only five were cleared. “A small percentage of the time we find the property or the people responsible,” he said.
He said neighborhood’s open parties and open doors make it difficult for police to identify the thieves or gather physical evidence. “We have a better chance of catching the burglar in the act or leaving the scene,” he explained.
Raney said the police try a multi-pronged approach to reducing property theft which includes educating Isla Vistans on ways they can protect their property by locking doors, hiding valuables, and carrying property with them; working to close cases; and increasing law enforcement presence. For example, during winter break, when I.V. is relatively deserted, police officers focus a lot of their energy on reducing property crime by providing an increased force.
Raney said the typical I.V. thief isn’t what you might expect. It’s a person in their mid 20’s to 30’s with substance abuse problems or a history of theft. “(In some cases) they party with the students and take advantage as it presents itself,” he explained. He said the police need the students’ participation to substantially reduce crime. “It’s just going to take a huge effort on students’ part,” he said. At this time, however, Raney said “It’s a beacon (for thieves) because of the environment.”