While students and faculty were away over break, many people opted to sign their house or apartment up for the Bradley University’s Police Department Vacant House Program. And for one home, signing up saved these students a few valuable belong- ings.
“We caught one burglary because the home was on watch,” said BUPD Chief Brian Joschko. “Officers noticed something was off when they checked the house, and Peoria Police had called in a few suspects about 15 minutes before. They had been walking with backpacks and a TV. We found that they had all of the sto- len items from the home on them. They had taken the TV and some jewelry from the students’ home.”
Those same suspects had reportedly burglarized another home elsewhere in the commu- nity, looting thousands of dollars in jewelry before breaking into the students’ residence on Bradley Ave.
Junior elementary education major Paige Hovious, who lives in the house that was burglar- ized, said she and the other two residents decided to sign up for the vacant house watch because of previous crimes near her home.
“About two days before Christmas Eve at about three in the morning, [my roommate] text- ed us saying that our house had been broken into,” she said. “The Bradley police had been watching our house and checking the doors regularly to make sure that they were locked. When they noticed that our front door was wide open they knew that something was not right.”
Hovious said she and her roommates were impressed at the BUPD’s quick response time.
“It has been a process getting all of our stuff back and filing vari- ous paper work, but we feel better knowing that the criminals have been caught and will be punished for their crimes,” she said. “We would definitely put our house on the vacant watch list again, because if we hadn’t originally we probably wouldn’t have known until we got back from break that our house was broken into.”
This was the first year the vacant house program was in effect and 38 homes and apart- ments signed up, which was a higher enrollment than expected, Joshcko said.
“That’s an impressive number,” he said. “It’s certainly not a secret in the community that students are gone over break, so this is a great program to have.”
Joschko said each residence was checked three times through- out the day during each shift, which meant an officer would walk around the house and check for open or unlocked doors and windows, footsteps in the snow, or anything else suspicious. Officers also drove past the house several times every day.
“The activity level on campus is relatively slow, so the vacant house program kept [the officers] pretty busy,” he said.
Last winter break, there were 13 burglaries reported in residences around campus, and this year that number dropped to three.
“It was a help that people saw officers out in the community,” Joschko said.
Joschko said the response to the program was very positive.
“I received excellent feedback,” he said. “We got 12 or 13 emails and a couple thank you cards with gifts like baked goods.”
Other students who signed up for the program said the program was worthwhile.
Senior learning behavior spe- cialist major Caitlin Staib said she, however, had an unexpected expe- rience.
“When my roommates and I first got the email about the vacant house program, we thought it was a great idea,” she said. “[We] signed up for this vacancy watch because we know of some people whose houses have been broken into. What’s kind of interesting about this house watch is, for it being the first time doing this, campus police definitely took it seriously.”
Staib said she returned once during break, but five minutes into returning home, she heard pound- ing on the front door.
“I came back to take a state exam and was very clear on what
day I was coming back,” she said. “I was called down out of my house and was asked a lot of questions as to who I was, why I was there, what time I arrived at the house, whose car was in the driveway and a few other ques- tions.”
The officers explained they were part of the vacant house program and thought she was breaking into the house, Staib said.
“Having two cops on my front porch and asking me questions was a little intimidating,” she said. “They apologized, but I did make a comment to them that they clearly do take this seriously. I am happy that they did because it does provide the campus with a safer environment, especially when everybody is gone for break. However, next time there should be better communication and they should make sure the forms are read.”
Sign-ups for the Vacant House Program will be available for Spring Break. BUPD will remind students to register a few weeks before break.