Rise in off-campus bike, car theft leads to WUPD safety notices

| Contributing Reporter

Theft has increased substantially in the Skinker DeBaliviere neighborhood directly bordering Washington University’s Danforth Campus over the past year.

The number of car thefts has escalated 54 percent and car break-ins 123 percent since 2015, according to the St. Louis Police Department. The motor vehicle theft rate in Skinker DeBaliviere is 1889.7 per every 100,000 people, whereas the overall motor vehicle theft rate in the U.S. is 257.3 per every 100,000 people.

While the rate of car-related theft has decreased by 16 percent in all of St. Louis City, it appears to be on the rise each year in the off-campus region where many upperclassmen live and students pass through frequently.

Brandon Sterling, executive director of the Skinker DeBaliviere community council, has also noticed the rise in car theft.

“While crime is still very low, there have been a recent spike in auto-related thefts. Most of this is due to owner habits, like leaving cash and other valuables in plain view, forgetting to lock car doors and checking on vehicles that are going to be parked for extended periods over the summer or holidays,” Sterling said.

In light of the recent increase in theft, both Sterling and Washington University Police Department’s Chief of Police Mark Glenn advised for students to be more aware of their belongings. Glenn recommended the use of a steering wheel club, which locks the wheel in place and deters thieves. He also suggested that students refrain from leaving valuables in their cars at any time, whether in plain sight or concealed.

Cars have not been the only target of theft in the Skinker area—there have been several reports of missing bicycles from the area as well. Junior Elizabeth Levinson said she has had not one, but two bikes stolen off campus.

“My nice one got stolen off of Forsyth…And then I bought a replacement one from Target—it was like 90 bucks—and even that one got stolen on the corner of Skinker and McPherson,” Levinson said.

Her first bike had been secured with a combination lock, which are known to be easy to break. However, her second bike had been secured with a stronger U-Lock. That morning, Levinson found screws where her bike had been, and also saw that three or four other bikes had been stolen as well.

Later that day, Levinson spoke with Keith, a homeless man who is known to spend time around Kayak’s Cafe.

“I was talking to him about it, and he said that he knew of people that were going around stealing bikes on that corner,” she said. “He’d been noticing people at night coming out with tools and stuff to steal bikes. So he didn’t seem super surprised that it got stolen.”

As a result of the rise in theft, the University is looking at taking new approaches to address the issue. According to Glenn, the police department and Washington University have to work together with students in order to ensure safety and security.

“You deal with a new group of students every year,” Glenn said. “It requires us as a police department to evaluate crimes anywhere on campus and see if trends are emerging, and adjust the way we patrol and increase our manpower to help address those.”

Despite the theft rates, Sterling stated that the neighborhood remains one of the safest in St. Louis. Residents of the area have their own Security Committee where they give each other tips and check in with law enforcement and prosecutors. The Security Committee also covers issues such as identifying lots, properties, alleyways and streets where brush should be removed or lighting is needed to make the neighborhood safer.

“What makes Skinker DeBaliviere great—and safe—is that people form relationships and look out for one another,” Sterling said.