Every night, while 20,000 humans snooze and booze, an invisible, opportunistic army of scoundrels takes to Isla Vista’s streets. I.V. has been a hotbed for burglaries since its early days as a student settlement, and its population density directly correlates with the rate of its break-ins. But the main reason for burglaries is not necessarily the dense population. At least the I.V. Foot Patrol doesn’t think so. Officer Mark Ward said that locals and out-of-towners alike “work the area because it’s easy and it’s lucrative.”
Recent statistics show why it’s so easy to burglarize I.V. residences. Lieutenant Ray Vuillemainroy, who got his PhD in education from UCSB before he started working with the Foot Patrol toward the end of 2010, always regarded the high rate of I.V. burglaries as a problem. He set out to collect data, and found that of the 290 residential burglaries in 2010, 191 took place at apartments with unlocked doors or windows. Vuillemainroy tallied the total value of stolen goods at $459,538.
That’s why he, together with Officer Tony DeLeo (also of I.V. Foot Patrol), conceived of the campaign “Stop Burglaries in IV: Lock Doors and Windows.” After coming up with the principle, DeLeo explained, the Foot Patrol met with UCSB’s Associated Students, which agreed to fund the printing of 82,000 stickers. The campaign officially kicked off March 17.
Other organizations on board with the campaign are the I.V. Tenants Union, the Associated Students Isla Vista Community Relations Committee, I.V. business owners, UCSB’s Office of Student Life, I.V. Property Owners Associated, AS External Vice President for Local Affairs, and the I.V. Safety Committee. Business owners in I.V. agreed to distribute the stickers by placing them on all takeout packages, coffee cups, and plastic and paper bags. “We want to get people programmed,” said DeLeo. “If they see the sticker all the time, maybe they’ll think, ‘Yeah, I’ll lock my doors and windows.’”
‘To Bust a Lick and Come Up’
Matt, a former I.V. resident who shared his experiences on terms of anonymity, understands well why DeLeo refers to burglaries in I.V. as “crimes of opportunity.” Matt’s couch used to be home to two men who frequently snuck into apartments to steal. For them, to “bust a lick and come up” means to break in and leave with more than you came with. They normally dressed in dark clothing, wore baseball gloves (to prevent fingerprints), and sometimes carried a bat, said Matt. Of the logistics of burglarizing, he further explained that the two men made sure to “have a lookout and an idea of what [they were] looking for — mainly electronics.” He said they were also always ready to run from the police.
Motivation for characters like these, explained Matt, was desperation. “They’d use the money for alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, to pay off probation [classes] — for all sorts of stuff,” he said. But the two crooks he spoke of only represent one group of I.V. burglars. Matt told me about Tony and his housemates’ habit of frequenting parties at UCSB’s Greek-affiliated houses, where they would swipe the phones of intoxicated sorority girls. “[Tony] had a whole collection going,” explained Matt. The same crew also routinely snatched laptops and cell phones left unattended on desks and tables at UCSB’s Davidson Library. Then there are burglars who “just target drug dealers,” Matt went on. “They’d break into their houses and steal all their drugs and money.”
The next step is to resell the goods, which, Matt said, does not usually involve Craigslist, but rather connections through friends and word-of-mouth communication. Resale prices are normally far below market value. “A MacBook Pro might be $200,” said Matt. Of I.V.’s more serious burglars (those who are especially desperate for cash and less likely to be students), Matt said, “They’d actually sell a lot of that stuff up in Lompoc … You just wanna get [those items] off your hands quick.”
The Stop Burglaries in I.V. campaign is targeting the root reason why people who are in dire need of cash, and those who simply aim to wreak havoc, won’t leave I.V. alone. Matt said that I.V. is the “perfect spot” because late on a weekend night, most people are out partying. This fits with what Officer Ward said about how his department’s “burglar hunting is a weekend activity.” He also said “people walk down the street trying every door, and one of them always opens.”
Fighting the Good Fight
As of the 2010-11 school year’s end, the campaign had distributed around 30,000 of its 82,000 stickers. The campaign will continue a month-long distribution process each academic quarter, in addition to mailing an informative postcard to I.V. homes with statistics, advice, and Foot Patrol phone numbers. Associated Students created magnets as well.
Furthermore, I.V. property management companies like The Meridian Group and Sierra Property Management will leave packages with students moving in during the fall quarter of the upcoming school year. By the end of winter quarter, all 82,000 stickers will have been doled out. While it’s a little too early to tell whether or not statistics — which show decreases in burglary rates so far, but are potentially irregular in pattern, according to Vuillemainroy — all parties seem pleased with the progress thus far. Numbers compiled at the end of September will offer a more solid indication of the campaign’s effectiveness.
Unlocked windows and doors aside, Ward said that there are other ways to cut back on burglaries. If an I.V. resident catches a burglar in the act, he went on, “Trap them! Help us catch them! Delay them if you can, safely.” This could mean talking to them while another housemate runs to the bathroom and calls 911, he went on. But if this doesn’t work, Ward said, “Tell me what they look like. Tell me where they’re going.” A good physical description starts at the top and includes height, hair, race, clothing, and any outstanding characteristic.
Despite the seeming dip in burglary rates, the I.V. Foot Patrol remains busy. This is good for Officer Ward, who loves his job. “Catching criminals is fun,” he said. But his “hunting” analogy is facetious. The goal for Ward and his colleagues is not to emerge victorious from the battlefield sporting jailed prey as proof of victory. “Stopping them from creating more victims is our goal,” he explained. “Fewer victims, less drama for people, less tragedy for people,” he said. That’s why the Foot Patrol and UCSB’s Associated Students are working so hard to engrave into residents’ heads the importance of locking doors and windows.