The day has finally arrived – you’re moving away to university. The car pulls away, carrying impossible numbers of junk-filled boxes, and you take one last glance behind you at the place you call home. But not for much longer. Soon you’ll be living the freedom dream in halls, no curfews, no cleaning, and no ‘WHERE ARE YOU I’M WORRIED’ texts. No parents to tell you what to do and when to do it. The same parents who lock the doors behind you.
Living at home is a security breeze. What’s a burglar again? A dim flicker of consideration is triggered at the thought, then fades away. You don’t have to worry about that! Who double checks that the windows are all closed? Dad. Who makes sure to leave a light on in the hall when everyone leaves the house? Mum. Locking the back door? I’m sure someone else has already done that. While we all know and understand the consequences of a break in, it seems only first-hand experience of one will trigger internal alarm bells and flashing red warning lights.
Of course, the absence of a parent or guardian doesn’t mean that the second you move out you’ll be at dangerous levels of exposure to crooks, thieves and corruption – on the contrary, university halls of residence are under extremely high levels of surveillance; stiff upper lip security guards with darkness in their souls patrol the gates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and sightings of normal members of the public are few and far between - the boundaries are impenetrable. You lost the key for your flat last night? That’ll be £90 for a replacement – security keys don’t come cheap. Moving into a normal rented property, however, is a different story. Most students will chose to step into the big wide world in their second and third years of university rather than going back into halls, and with this decision comes the freedom to throw around sets of keys at your leisure – with minimal extra costs! There are other perks, like being able to have more than 3 friends round without all disciplinary action hell breaking lose. Ah, and of course, no flat inspections – you can live in squalor and role around in your own filth till your grossly unhygienic heart’s content. Sadly, freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand. If you’re moving out of halls and into a house, you should probably now start thinking about closing your window before going out. You also might need to start locking the door if you didn’t already. Every day. At all times. Wherever you live.
To an outsider, student areas may seem like a dense network of thriving friendships, parties and non-stop fun. This is true to a certain extent. However, the friendships formed in first year seem to put an invisible cap on student’s mingling ability. A family of five may jump at the chance to invite the new neighbours round for a cup of tea; us students, however, have found our comfort zone and are sticking to it, thank you. Does it really matter who’s living next door?
Back home, I perhaps took it for granted that the neighbours around us were extremely sensitive to any criminal activity and suspicious behaviour - leaving the house empty for a week or so was not to be fretted over; Maureen and Eric would make sure the youths stayed well out of our front garden. Unsurprisingly, the neighbourhood watch movement has not yet transcended onto the lowly student community. This is not to say we are unfriendly and unsociable - it is to highlight the fact that although we are a community, the sense of community is perhaps a little lacking. When you go out, all the while being careful to monitor your intake of alcohol units, relying on your neighbours to keep an eye on your house isn’t the best idea – it is safe to presume they will probably be doing the very same thing, and inebriated students aren’t usually recognised for their care and consideration.
However, beneath the boozy haze of carelessness and unlatched windows, it isn’t entirely unprecedented that we sweep our crime cares under the rug. Less households in the UK were broken into and burgled compared with those of anti-social behaviour and violent crime*. So why does it seem like there is such a high incidence of break-ins in students areas? The fact of the matter is that properties which are rented for short-term periods as opposed to those with permanent owners are a much easier target for burglars, and unfortunately, student properties fall into this category.
But panic not! There are some simple yet very effective precautions that you can take to ensure that you don’t become the victim of such heinous crimes:
1. Always lock doors
Without meaning to state the blindingly obvious, this is exceedingly important and is sometimes overlooked. Even when people are in the house, this often isn’t a good enough deterrent to prevent some low life of society having a stab at sneaking in and grabbing the nearest laptop they can find. Locking your bedroom door when you go out (also prevents certain undesirables from lacing your room with loo-roll) will also be a pain in the neck for those pesky burglars and slows down the break-in process (ha).
2. Always shut your windows
Nothing screams ‘welcome all thieves and miscreants’ like a wide open window at 3am. Will try not to offend by extrapolating.
3. Get an alarm
If you don’t already have one installed, you should press your landlord to install an alarm, or even ask about it before you move into a property. They can be the difference between getting all your stuff nicked which can result in a rather large mental breakdown, or a broken door, nothing actually being taken and just a few tears (this happened to me – they really do work!).
4. Don’t all leave at once...
This especially applies to bigger houses. If you’re all going out at once it tends to look a bit obvious that the house is going to be empty for a few hours. Think about ordering taxis to different addresses 15 or 20 minutes apart from each other. Large groups of girls should try to keep incessant screaming to a minimum.
5. Keep a hall or bedroom light on
Then it sort of looks like someone might be in. Hurrah! It might hurt to do this if you’re concerned about the melting ice caps, and if you’re worried about your energy bill, well, get over it. It’ll all be worth it when your brand new Mac laptop with that 4000 word essay on due tomorrow isn’t stolen (save the polar bears).
Hopefully this will reach you as words of wisdom rather than a premonition of imminent doom. There is no worse feeling than coming back to a burgled house and knowing that there were steps you could have taken to prevent it happening – but now you know what to do, you can avoid monumental levels of regret and self loathing (and stolen electronic goods).