Pitt police increase patrols after 17 burglaries

Jordan Mondell, Assistant Visual Editor

There have been more burglaries in Oakland since the start of the fall semester — 17 total — than in all of the 2015 calendar year combined.  

Yet no one has been arrested after the string of crimes that began in October, even as Pitt police have increased patrols in Oakland and University spokespeople have advised students to lock their doors at night and be vigilant of suspicious activity.

“University police are working with the city of Pittsburgh police to thoroughly investigate each incident and are devoting a considerable amount of effort to apprehend the person or people responsible,” said Pitt spokesperson Joe Miksch.

Most recently, according to Pitt police, a burglary occurred in the 3400 block of Ward Street Thursday evening at about 11:30 p.m. Another burglary occurred in the 3200 block of Ward a couple hours later, between 12:30 a.m. and 1:00 a.m.

For the first time since the burglaries began, police released a description of a possible suspect for the Nov. 10 burglary on the 3400 block of Ward Street. The suspect is described as a black male, about 6-foot, 20 to 25 years of age with a slender build and short, curly, dread-like hair.

In both incidents, the intruder gained entry into the homes through unlocked doors, according to Pitt police. The department would not comment on whether it believed the incidents were related in any way.

Police have made similar statements about the other 15 burglaries. In the more than two months since the string of crimes began, police have refused to say whether or not they believe separate people committed each crime or if the crimes are connected in some way. At this point, police have said they are investigating each incident separately, but they have not ruled out the possibility that the burglaries are connected.

Pitt police have developed some leads into the burglaries, according to Miksch, although he wouldn’t specify what kind of leads. Those leads are actively being pursued with the help of city police, but there has been no indication that the investigations will conclude anytime soon.

Pitt police media logs –– summaries of all criminal and fire reports generated during a 24-hour period –– have indicated that there have been 16 burglaries since Aug. 29. An additional burglary has been reported by city police in that time span as well. In the media log, Pitt police also reported a robbery occurred at 5:51 p.m. on Nov. 9 on Robinson Street ––  although it is not included in the semester’s burglary counts because burglaries indicate entrance into a home or other building while robberies indicate the use of force or intimidation to take property from a person.

The 17 reported burglaries –– three of which have taken place since Oct. 25, did not have corresponding Pitt crime alerts –– since the beginning of the fall semester top the number of burglaries in the entire year of 2015, which saw 11 reported burglaries in the Oakland area.

Crime alerts are issued at the discretion of the chief of Pitt police — currently Chief James Loftus — and under the terms of the Clery Act, according to Miksch.

The chief of police issues crime alerts when serious, unresolved crime is committed on or near the University campus and when the crime creates a threat of harm to faculty, staff or students. If the crime has a likelihood of repetition, an alert — like those warning students to lock up — is issued to prevent similar incidents.

The crime alert system is currently the only notification system the University has for crimes on campus, but students and faculty members must sign up to receive the alerts.

“The University is considering changing the system so that it notifies everyone in the University with an email when an alert is issued, but we have no timeline for if and when this will occur,” Miksch said.

In the meantime, both Pitt police and city police are increasing patrols in the area in an effort to prevent further crime according to spokespeople for both agencies. But Emily Schaffer, a spokesperson for city police, would not give further details on those patrols, citing officer safety.

Miksch also would not further comment on the current state of the investigations or of any possible leads.

“It is not possible to elaborate without possibly compromising the ongoing investigations,” Miksch said.

All the incidents since Aug. 29, have taken place in West or Central Oakland and most of them have resulted in crime alerts. Four burglaries took place on Semple Street and four on Ward Street. Additionally, burglaries have been reported on Meyran Avenue, McKee Place, South Bouquet Street, Dawson Street, Bates Street and Dimling Way.

One burglary on McKee Place, which took place Oct. 31, did not result in a Pitt crime alert because only city police responded.

The tenants at McKee Place –– Pitt seniors Kerry Regan and Tess Gavin –– were home, sleeping, at the time of that incident. The roommates realized someone had broken in after waking up the next morning and discovering Regan’s car and purse were missing and a window in the house was open.

“At first I thought maybe [my car] had been towed, but after the realization of what had happened set in — and we also noticed that my purse was missing — I knew someone had broken in,” Regan said.

The roommates called the police and filed a report, but no suspect has been taken into custody according to Gavin and Regan.

Gavin and Regan said they locked their door that evening, but were unsure if their windows had been locked.

“The bag that was taken which had the car keys in it, was sitting directly under the window. Nothing else in the apartment appeared to be touched, and the blinds were even still drawn on the window,” Gavin said.

The day before the break-in at Regan and Gavin’s, there were three burglaries in Central Oakland, according to the University of Pittsburgh Police Department’s media logs.

The logs listed the three burglaries in the 3400 Block of Ward Street, on Semple Street and on South Bouquet Street. Pitt police issued crime alerts via email and text messages only for the burglaries that occurred on Semple and South Bouquet streets.

Crime alerts are sent out only to those who subscribe to the service online, but can also be found on the Pitt police website.

The University has also placed safety tip door hangers on doors throughout Oakland in an effort to remind residents of safety tips and to provide them with department contact information, according to Miksch.

Madison Cristinziano, a junior biology major who lives on McKee, said she and her roommates have begun locking their windows, even though they live on the second floor.

“We just want to make sure we are taking all of the possible steps we can to make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen to us,” Cristinziano said.

Following the incidents on Oct. 30 and 31, there were no other burglaries reported until Wednesday, Nov. 9.

For students who have been affected by the burglaries, however, the uneasiness of the break-ins — and the lack of information about suspects and police activity — continues to resonate long after the crimes have been reported.

“It’s just really violating to have someone come into your home, I’m just really uncomfortable about the whole situation,” Gavin said. “It sounds so cliche but I literally thought it would never happen to me. But it did.”

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this story, a sentence indicated that a student moved his car to off-street parking each night as a result of the burglaries that have occurred. This is incorrect, as the student said he does not move his car each night. His quotes and these sentences have been removed.

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