As Univ. of Georgia Students Cleared Out for Holidays, Burglaries Shot Up in Athens

To combat the anticipated spike in home invasions during the fall semester break, the local police department boosted patrols and advocated the use of residential alarm systems.

ATHENS, Ga. – As thousands of University of Georgia students returned home for the holidays at the close of fall semester, they left apartments, town houses and condos vacant for nearly a month in this college town. Doing so was quite the attention grabber for burglars.

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To thwart an expected increase in home intrusions, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department heightened its efforts to combat crime and released an official statement reassuring citizens of their safety as they went into the holidays. According to the statement, as reported in The Red & Black, a campus newspaper, the police promised to “take every opportunity and make every effort to provide excellent service to our citizens and students, by conducting frequent patrols, and partnering with the University of Georgia Police.”

According to the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, there were 60 reports of breaking and entering between Dec. 17 and Jan. 5, 56 of which occurred at residences, up from only 12 incidents the previous month.

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Lieutenant David Coker, Commander of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department’s Property Crimes Unit, noticed a 50% increase in holiday home invasion over the same period of time last year. At the same time, due to the police’s proactive measures to educate citizens on precautions and taking their valuables with them, Coker said there was not a drastic increase in stolen property.     

In order to combat burglars, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the University of Georgia Police Department combined their efforts to increase their daily and nightly foot patrols.

“Most of the burglaries we have reported over Christmas break were caught by patrollers on foot,” Coker said via The Red & Black. “We try to do some predictive analysis on the areas that are the biggest target for break-ins to try and get ahead of the game.”

While police take extra preventative measures during the holidays, there is no way to predict a major increase in break-ins, Coker said. He listed out several possible reasons for the increase, including the possibility of returning offenders.

“You may have known offenders who have been charged for these crimes before, and sometimes you’re going to have a year where some of them are released back into society,” he said. “And some go back to their old way of doing things.”

Coker said the increase in burglaries happens in every town during the holidays, but tacking on a university of close to 30,000 students creates increased opportunity for intruders. University police said that students are the biggest targets for home invasion in Athens.

Universities everywhere are re-emphasizing the power of a home security system, including the University of Georgia. University police said they feel home security systems have made significant advances and should not be overlooked.

“Home security systems represent one option for people to consider as an added ‘layer’ of personal safety and security,” according to the university police’s Crime Prevention Department.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology conducted a survey of convicted burglars and found that most burglars try to determine if an alarm is present before breaking in. Of those that determined an alarm was present, roughly 53% discontinued the break-in. This has proven to be effective in previous years, as several rental communities in the Athens-Clarke County area have buckled down and installed alarm systems in their units. In turn, rental property owners have noticed a complete elimination of successful home invasions, the newspaper reported.

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