University Police confront burglaries with Operation Winter Watch

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – As students prepare to take a well-deserved break, University Police are ramping up extra crime prevention efforts.

Calling it Operation Winter Watch, University Police will be providing extra officers and extra patrols during nighttime hours to prevent burglary through the winter break, which runs from Dec. 16 to Jan. 17. Officers will be in plainclothes and unmarked vehicles.

While they patrol, they will be looking for behaviors typically associated with burglary – like checking for unlocked door handles and carrying burglary tools.

In addition to the extra patrols, police will be using a mobile security camera at various public locations in the business/residential area immediately west of campus, typically referred to as Campustown. Extra signage will be posted to alert people of the extra patrols and provide safety tips.

“We want our students to know that we’re here to support them and provide service, even when they are not physically here,” said U. of I. Police Chief Alice Cary. “We also want anyone with ill intentions to know that we’ve still got campus well-covered during the break, and we are not going to tolerate any behavior that puts Campustown safety or security at risk.”

The need comes from a historical increase in Campustown burglaries during school breaks. Burglars are aware of the school schedule and know students will be away from their homes for an extended period. Burglary reports tend to spike when students return and find evidence of a break-in.

Even with the extra patrols, police need students’ help.

“We can’t emphasize this enough – lock your doors. Double- and triple-check that they are locked before you leave,” Chief Cary said. “It’s a common tactic for someone to go down a line of doors and check the handles. If it’s locked, they move on. If it’s unlocked, they enter.”

Some basic safety practices as students prepare to leave campus will go a long way to prevent burglary and other crimes:

  • Residents MUST lock their doors and windows prior to leaving for the break. This alone will prevent most issues.
  • If you are leaving a vehicle near campus, make sure it is locked too.
  • Do not have packages delivered to your Campustown address while you are away for an extended period.
  • Do not leave valuables in plain sight. Take them with you if it’s feasible to do so.
  • If you stay on campus, report suspicious activity immediately. For crimes in progress, call 911.