Burglary remains an infrequent crime at the University of Miami while the greater city of Miami oftentimes gets a bad criminal rap.
Since the installment of exhaustive cautionary measures by the University of Miami Police Department and UM Housing & Residential Life, the number of burglaries on the Coral Gables campus, including those within student housing, has exhibited a significant steady decline since 2011.
Nineteen burglaries were recorded in 2011. Nine were recorded in 2016, the first year the number dipped below 10 cases. Only four burglaries were counted in 2018, calculating to a 79% reduction over the eight-year course. Similarly, the number of burglaries occurring in student residences decreased by 91% (11 in 2011, one in 2018) over the eight-year course.
“Right now, it’s very rare to find a dorm room that’s been [raided] by [thieves] thanks to the layers of protection we’ve added,” UMPD Chief David Rivero said. “In the past, we had lots of thefts in the dorms because each student owned a metal key, which was too inconvenient, so they never locked their [doors]. We [initiated] ‘Cane Card access to rooms about five years ago, which costed a lot of money but nearly completely eliminated theft.”
“The most commonly stolen and reported item in the dorms is laundry,” said James Hasell, a resident assistant in Pearson Residential College.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of these incredible definition cameras where we actually almost see every single crime that happens on campus,” Rivero said. He catches freshmen in the towers breaking into washing machines “all the time” through the “very powerful” surveillance system.
There was a spike in on-campus burglaries in 2015, jumping from 10 cases (2014) to 16 (2015) and down to nine (2016). The uptick was attributed to an “office creeper” who would tiptoe around offices on campus, pretending to be lost, and steal wallets and phones.
“We know he committed at least three crimes, maybe more, from video evidence,” Rivero said.
Ronald Wabomnor, assistant director of HRL Safety & Security, praised the incorporation of full-time night managers who have also sharpened dorm vigilance.
“Night managers are professional crisis responders with criminology experience who attend to all major incidents between 5 p.m. and 4 a.m.,” Wabomnor said. “All night managers as well as resident and community assistants are trained to cover and reach UMPD in theft situations.”
The main campus averages between two to three crimes per 1,000 people, which is the lowest ratio of all Florida universities. Rivero called UM an “oasis lacking crime” compared to its surrounding metropolis of Miami, which holds a crime rate of 42 per thousand.
“Burglaries at UM amount to a small portion of total Coral Gables burglaries,” added Kelly Denham, public information officer at Coral Gables Police Department. In 2018, CGPD recorded 128 burglaries of which UM’s cases accounted for slightly under 3.13%.
Locations of competing mid-size private schools such as Northeastern University (Boston) and Emory University (Atlanta) pose higher threats to student crime. From 2011 to 2018, Northeastern’s central campus amassed 105 burglaries — with spikes in 2013 (25) and 2016 (14) — to average 3.13 per year, edging out UM’s sum of 96 and mean of 12.
In starker contrast, Emory collected 30 burglaries in 2018 alone — 10 of which impacted on-campus residences — to cap off a 275% climb over the eight-year course. Atlanta’s 58/1,000 crime rate beats Miami’s statistic.
According to Rivero, motor vehicle theft is the rarest crime at UM — with no more than three cars stolen per year during the last half decade — while larceny (theft of unattended property) sits at the top. Perpetrators are 50% internal (students/faculty/staff) and 50% external (outsiders). Early fall semester is prime hunting season for criminals, and irresponsible freshmen’s abandoned electronics are prominent victims of larceny.
Junior Molly Moore can attest to this. In September 2018, the then-freshman accidentally left her iPhone by the Hecht-Stanford dining hall waffle station while grabbing lunch at 12:28 p.m.
Forty-three minutes later, she searched for her phone with no luck. UMPD then arrived and traced its location to the back of the kitchen, where it was shut off shortly after.
“I lost my credit card, debit card, driver’s license and ‘Cane ID, too,” Moore said. “None were retrieved, and the thief was never identified.”
On Aug. 20, 2020, a two-time burglar named Jonathan Then was first caught lurking into the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at 4:24 a.m. Forty-four minutes later, Then ran off with laptops in a purloined bookbag. A victim reported the incident to UMPD at 9 a.m.
“The [entrance] was unlocked, so he just walked [right] in,” Rivero said. “We were able to [easily] identify and arrest him” through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s facial recognition software. “We’ve [detected] a few bad guys that way.”
UMPD seeks to further educate students on crime prevention going forward. Through new initiatives such as the First Responders Program — pushed by Wabomnor and HRL staff three years ago — and UMPD’s Student Ambassadors, officers remind ‘Canes to stay cognizant and curb distractions especially when at on-campus hotspots like cafeterias and libraries and public areas outside the utopia of UM.
“I would rather avoid a crime than catch a criminal committing a crime,” Rivero laughed.
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