When fall term finals came to an end, many students at the University of Oregon prepared to leave their apartments and houses near campus to travel or return home for the holidays. For the duration of the month-long break, many student residences were left unattended and vulnerable to break-ins and theft.
This past winter break, however, the University of Oregon Police Department launched a new, free program called Vacation Watch to combat the issue. Students could sign up online or in person at the police department by giving their names, addresses and contact information. The questionnaire also asked for the dates the residence will be unattended and what types of security measures the houses have.
With this information, mainly community service officers and student security assistants conducted daily patrols around student-populated neighborhoods. In addition to vehicle patrols, officers checked the doors and windows of residences to make sure they were locked and showed no signs of unauthorized entry or vandalism. They would also make sure no packages were left on doorsteps.
The police department created the program in an attempt to reduce the number of break-in attempts that occur over the break when residences are empty. Though the program couldn’t guarantee security, UOPD hoped the presence would deter criminals, the Emerald reported before the program launched.
According to UOPD spokesperson Kelly McIver, 283 students signed up for the program, with the largest number of students living in the west university area. The additional patrols proved successful, as officers were able to alert students to any potential issues while they were away.
In an email to the Emerald, McIver wrote that there was only one report of an unlocked door in connection with a burglary at a residence that was signed up for the program. He said on Jan. 3, someone gained access to an outbuilding and stole two bicycles and other property.
Additionally, there were three instances of a person sleeping on the porch of an unoccupied residence. The person was asked to leave and the resident did not press charges, McIver said.
UOPD will also offer the program to interested students during spring break, and likely in the coming years as well.
“Chief Carmichael and the rest of the team viewed this as a big success given that it was the first attempt,” McIver said. “That’s a lot of secure and observed residences, and provided a lot of security presence in those neighborhoods that otherwise wouldn’t have been there, except for very occasional moving patrols.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that there were no reported burglaries of observed residences over the break. That information has been corrected to say that there was one discovered burglary.