Weekend sees multiple off-campus car break-ins
In the past week, at least nine student-owned cars were broken into in the neighborhoods surrounding Washington University, and nine individuals, including at least five juveniles, were detained by police officers in relation to these vehicle break-ins, according to the WashU Police Department (WUPD).
Angela Coonce, Chief of WUPD, said that the department increased patrols in affected areas in response to the break-ins. She believes that the WUPD patrols are in the right place, but that patrol zones are large and car break-ins occur quickly.
“There’s areas like the 6300 block of Enright, where there were eight cars broken into, [where] we’ve had a lot of extra patrol[s] this week,” Coonce said.
Coonce said that Fox 2 St. Louis reported on a “spree of shattered car windows” in the Central West End between Saturday night and Sunday morning, and that the incidents might be related because the windows were broken.
“Ten years ago, it was common to break out the windows, but now, a lot of times, they’ll just check the car doors and see if they’re open, because it’s a lot faster,” Coonce said.
WUPD informed Student Life of the 13 total break-ins that occurred in the past week, nine of which were confirmed to be damage to student vehicles.
On Sunday, three juveniles were taken into custody by the University City Police Department after a WashU security officer noticed them checking vehicle door handles in the area of Leland Ave. and Clemens Ave.
On Monday, another three individuals were detained by the St. Louis Police Department after WashU students reported seeing them attempt to break into a vehicle on the 6100 block of Waterman. Four total vehicles were damaged in the area, with one confirmed to belong to a WashU student.
Additionally, on Monday, one WashU student living on Pershing Avenue reported that their car had been broken into, and another called WUPD to report four individuals who were possibly breaking into a vehicle on the 700 block of Interdrive.
At 3:45 a.m. on Tuesday, a WUPD officer discovered eight cars that had been broken into on the 6300 block of Enright Avenue, just behind the off-campus housing complex known as the Lofts, seven of which belonged to WashU students.
A few hours later, at 5 a.m, a WashU contract security officer noticed three subjects breaking into a vehicle on the same block. WUPD confirmed that one adult and two juveniles were detained in relation to this specific incident, but no arrests were made.
Senior Addison Coberly said that on Friday morning, she found her car window had been smashed overnight after she left it parked on McPherson Street outside her apartment.
Coberly said she also noticed that at least five cars on her street were broken into that same morning. She has had a car with her in St. Louis since sophomore year, but she didn’t have any safety issues until last semester, when it was broken into twice.
After Coberly’s wallet was stolen following the first break-in, she stopped leaving valuables inside overnight.
“The [second] time, stuff was scattered all over my car again, but nothing was taken, because I stopped leaving things in there,” Coberly said.
This is the first time that her car has been broken into by breaking a window, as opposed to alternate methods of unlocking it.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous and will be referred to as Student A, received a voicemail from WUPD informing them that their car had been vandalized.
“My back right window was smashed completely, and I have cracks in my passenger-side-door window as well,” Student A said. “They rifled through my center console and made a mess of the car, but luckily, there was nothing of value for them to steal.”
WUPD sent an officer to talk to them after the incident and advised them to call the University City Police Department because the break-in fell under their jurisdiction.
“They dispatched an officer to me, who told me they would get back to me concerning insurance claims,” Student A said. “WUPD also took pictures of the damage to my car, but other than that, [they offered] no particular avenues of support.”
“I’m surprised the culprits were able to break into such a large [number] of cars in an area that has tons of cameras and is supposed to have a security guard on-scene 24/7,” Student A said. “I feel like you always hear about things like this happening to WashU students, but you never think it’ll happen to you.”
Junior Elle Su also found her car damaged on Tuesday morning.
“[WUPD] told us that they increased patrol [after the break-ins] — so they now have UCity, WUPD, and St. Louis PD patrolling the area,” she said.
Su said she heard about other prior car break-ins from friends, but never received any communications from WUPD about it.
“WUPD was really nice, even though they couldn’t really stop anything,” Su said. “[But] it was annoying that they didn’t send out any memos,”
WUPD collects car break-in information internally to track trends, but the data is not publicly uploaded onto the department’s online crime log.
Brent Feig, Director of Law Enforcement Operations for WUPD, said that WashU students should always call WUPD about break-ins even if they are in another police department’s jurisdiction.
“If students call WUPD, we can coordinate with other departments, but WUPD will respond immediately,” Feig said, adding that people should call 911 for medical emergencies.
Coonce said that she hopes the efforts made by police to apprehend suspects will reduce future incidents.
“Several of these individuals that we believe were breaking into cars were taken into custody,” Coonce said. “Several were juveniles, so there’s not a lot that’s going to be done with them in the criminal justice system, but hopefully that stops the trend.”
David Goodwin, who serves as the Captain of WUPD and Commander of the Patrol Division, added that the department spends a lot of time coordinating with other local police departments.
“When we see spikes like that, we adjust and really focus our patrols on that,” Goodwin said. He said that WUPD has been in contact with the Fifth District Commander of St. Louis City PD in addition to communicating with the University City PD about doing extra patrols in the area.
Coonce also urges students to contact WUPD if they notice suspicious behavior and to take steps to prevent break-ins, including parking in a well-lit area, locking your vehicle, and closing all windows.
Students who are interested in getting a theft-prevention steering wheel club for free can do so by visiting the WUPD office on campus.
Elle Su is a member of the Student Life editing team. She did not have any influence on or oversight in the reporting, writing, or editing of this article.