Campustown burglaries rise; Package theft plays big role

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The University of Illinois Police Department operates from the Public Safety Building, 1110 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana.

Nearly 400 burglaries in campustown, the area surrounding the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have been reported on the daily crime log in the past three academic years — increasing each year and becoming more frequent this year.

Patrick Wade, senior director of strategic communications at the university’s Division of Public Safety, said the campustown area has had an increase in stolen packages at apartment complexes.

“We’re seeing a ton of package thefts,” Wade said. “Amazon delivers something to the mail area of your apartment building and someone walks in either because the door’s propped open or it’s just not locked and they swipe some packages, we’re seeing a lot of those and those are all classified as burglaries.”

Crime log data between Aug. 3, 2020 and Sept. 28 this year shows there were 384 burglaries reported.

As of Dec. 1, 2023, in the last 60 days alone according to the Daily Crime Log, there have been 46 reported burglaries.

Between the fall semesters of 2020 and 2021, there were 47 burglaries reported, which jumped to 109 between fall 2021 and 2022. It increased further to 176 reported burglaries in the past academic year.

Dementro “Deebo” Powell, director of community development and engagement for the University of Illinois Police Department, also confirmed this trend.

“We have been receiving and seeing lots of package theft,” Powell said. “People coming into their apartments and finding that things have either been rummaged through or just taken altogether.”

Sean Hendrickson, a junior at the university, had five packages stolen over the past two years at multiple apartment buildings.

“I had a few taken from my first apartment, which was at 305 White Street,” Hendrickson said. “Then the majority were taken from my second, which was at 705 First.”

On Oct. 24, the Division of Public Safety came out with a press release regarding the ongoing issues of package thefts on campus. The release urged community members to secure their deliveries to reduce package theft.

“I think it’s a huge problem,” Hendrickson said. “It could be somebody’s medication, it could be something that they spent a lot of money on, you never know what somebody’s current situation is.”

Wade said there are a few ways students can protect their packages from getting stolen.

“Don’t prop open doors, don’t let people into a secure building if you don’t know who they are,” Wade said. “If you’re ordering something particularly valuable, try to have it delivered to an Amazon hub instead of straight to your doorstep to protect it.”

The press release also discussed Champaign’s most notorious repeat offender, Javarrias Miller. The 24-year-old Carlinville native has been arrested on counts of theft, trespassing, burglary, possession of stolen property, identity theft and stalking.

But Wade said there are other repeat offenders.

“There’s one person in particular (Miller) who we’ve arrested ten times since [last] December,” Wade said. “And he’s not the only one, we have other repeat offenders as well.”

Wade explained repeat offenders don’t explain all of the increased numbers, but they do make up a large amount of the crimes committed.

The university police, as well as Champaign police, have both had issues with keeping repeat offenders in jail due to new laws passed regarding holding those arrested in cells.

“We’re starting to see more people released from jail more quickly under the new Pretrial Fairness Act,” Wade said. “It’s the elimination of cash bonds so there’s different steps that need to be taken now to keep someone in jail until trial.”

The Pretrial Fairness Act was supposed to take effect at the beginning of this year, but was postponed after it was initially ruled unconstitutional by Kankakee County Judge Thomas W. Cunnington on Dec. 28, 2022. On Sept. 18 this year, the act took effect after being ruled constitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in July.

Many repeat offenders are from the immediate area.

“The repeat offenders I would say are more local,” Wade said. “A lot of them are unhoused individuals so we see that as well.”

Community Development Director Powell said university students are also committing many of these crimes.

“Most of the time when it comes to theft, the people who are stealing and that are doing these things, and that’s damage to properties and stuff like that, are students and are people who are living in the community itself,” Powell said.

Log details nature of burglaries, other crimes

While robberies have appeared to be less common than burglaries with just 49 reported since fall 2020, 13 were armed robberies and three were aggravated. Of the 13 armed robberies, five have occurred since May of this year.

Gun violence has been an area of concern for the university police in recent years.

“There was a period between about 2020 to early 2022 where, and this wasn’t just campus, this was throughout the community also throughout the country, we saw increased levels of gun violence,” Wade said. “We’ve got 56,000 students and 20,000 faculty and staff, so it’s a medium-sized city, the campus alone, so when there’s a national increase in gun violence we’ll see that here too.”

In the same period, the campus saw 97 rape crimes reported. In 2020, there were 25 reported rape crimes. Data on the annual Security and Fire Safety Report shows there were 17 in 2021, which more than doubled to 37 in 2022.

Despite the spike in reported rapes, Wade explains that the numbers rose so quickly due to the pandemic fading away.

“The jump you see from ‘21 and ‘22 is more to do with the pandemic because we didn’t have people on campus,” Wade said. “I was looking at the numbers from three years prior to the pandemic and they’re about the same as what we’re seeing now.”

In 2018, there were 37 rape offenses reported, exactly the same number as 2022.

Powell also mentioned the ending of the COVID restrictions and attributed it to the increase in crime statistics.

“Here we are with people who have been cooped up for basically two, three years,” Powell said. “The pandemic has misconstrued people’s thought process on things and how to do things.”

While the issue of package theft is happening across the entire campus, certain areas are targeted more than others. Apartments with lower rent, less security and a lack of drop-off area or designated mailrooms have had more issues than higher-end apartment buildings.

“Any apartment with front door security, better security at the front door or a more secure mail room is going to have fewer issues,” Wade said. “There are a lot of older apartments where the mailboxes are just right there inside the door, the door is never locked, so that’s where we’re seeing a lot of issues.”

Hendrickson, whose previous two apartments did not have secure mailrooms, echoed Wade’s opinion on the matter.

“I definitely say that it affects everyone,” Hendrickson said. “But I do think that the lack of a secure mail room definitely opens the door to a lot more circumstances where packages can be stolen.”

As for a solution to this increase in crime, Powell emphasizes that the university police and the campustown community need to build a stronger relationship.

“One of the biggest things I feel like we need to do better is getting the community involved a lot more and working with them directly,” Powell said.

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