BATON ROUGE — Living in an LSU dorm, Jack Tomeny is used to leaving his car unattended in a campus lot for a few days at a time. One day Tomeny noticed that someone had stolen his backpack from the backseat along with the loose change he had in the car.
Tomeny fell victim to a recurring theme that is making students uneasy not only on campus but at popular student apartment complexes near the LSU campus.
The number of car break-ins reported on campus jumped to 22 during this fall semester alone after falling to just two while students were studying remotely in 2020 and averaging 10 a year in the three years before that.
Baton Rouge Police Department records show that the off-campus apartment areas that many students move to after their freshman years have been averaging 30 to 35 vehicle burglaries a month. And relatively high rates for vehicle and apartment break-ins–and armed robberies–in Baton Rouge as a whole add to the apprehension.
Some students, like Tomeny, acknowledge being a bit naïve in not taking enough precautions. He left a passenger door unlocked even though the lot was not well lit.
Still, he said, “I was honestly a little surprised that there’s people brave enough to go and check random people’s cars,” said Tomeny.
Tomeny did not bother to report the break-in to LSU police, saying that he did not see what they could do at that point and that he decided to “kind of just cut my losses.”
LSU sophomore Laisha Mendez found that someone had broken her car’s passenger seat window in September while she was inside a bar in Tigerland, a popular hangout spot for students. The glove compartment was open, and old checks were found scattered over the seat.
Mendez spoke to BRPD about the incident and learned that the police had apprehended two men suspected of committing that crime and 17 other car-related incidents.
“They told me that they broke into other cars, so it made me feel not alone--like it happened to other people, too,” said Mendez.
The LSU Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the thefts and other crime on campus. It also works with the Baton Rouge Police Department in responding to off-campus incidents involving students, and many of the off-campus apartment complexes hire contractors to conduct security patrols.
“We do the best we can to make sure our residents are safe, but you can’t make any promises when it comes to that,” said Peter Bruno, a leasing team member at The Lodges at 777, an apartment complex on Ben Hur Road in the heart of the main off-campus apartment area.
“So it is always up to the residents to look out for themselves and make sure that they keep themselves safe even with all of the other precautions that we take,” he said.
The complex is gated, and residents need a passcode to enter. Bruno said it also has surveillance cameras and a security contractor that patrols the property.
LSU Student Government also is taking initiative to protecting students and looking at whether additional procedures may need to be put in place to ensure their safety.
It promotes pedestrian safety and self-defense classes, and Emily Otken, the director of transportation and safety for student government, said it is now working on a campus lighting survey.
Some students complain that it takes too long for LSU to fix lights that burn out and say they would like to see additional lighting in certain areas.
Otken said her group also is reviewing the LSU Shield app, which provides people on campus with another way to reach LSUPD. Otken said she would like to work with LSU officials to improve the app.
Matthew Valasik, an associate professor of sociology at LSU who focuses on crime-related issues, questioned whether the app would be any faster than calling 911 for users who had to scroll through many icons on their phones to find it.
“Sometimes when these things come out, it’s done for more of a symbolic purpose,” he said.
Valasik also noted that there is often not much that police can do about property crimes.
“Police in general are a reactive force, so they rely on the students and faculty to notify them when there’s a problem,” he said. “The likelihood they’re driving around and they run into something is extraordinarily low.”
As second-year and older LSU students move into apartments off campus, many find that they are even more vulnerable to vehicle break-ins and more serious crime, including armed robberies.
LSU student Teo Monthey was walking through his apartment complex when he was robbed at gunpoint at 2 a.m. last year.
“It’s honestly kind of a blur now, I think I was just in shock and confused when it happened,” said Monthey. A man approached him from behind asking for money. At first, Monthey said no. But when the man pulled a gun, Monthey reached into his pocket and gave him what he had–no more than $30.
“Everyone knows about the kind of things that happen at all of these apartment complexes,” he said. “It’s not anything that surprises anyone.”
But, he added, “I guess you’re just surprised when it actually happens to you.”
To attract students, apartment complexes promote safety measures such as gated communities and contracted security personnel to protect residents.
“The things that are a bit of a nuisance to police are a high priority to us,” said Jason Bourgeois, owner of Signal 88 Security, which patrols several student housing complexes in the area. “Law enforcement is dealing with crime; we're dealing with rules. If we can address loitering and suspension activity, then hopefully we’re preventing future crimes from taking place.”
Bourgeois said car break-ins are the most common offense on these properties. This leads to common misconception among renters, especially first-time ones, he said.
“There’s not an apartment lease out there that does not have a waiver of liability, so essentially no apartment is going to take on the liability of your personal property,” said Bourgeois. “Therefore, it is up to residents to be mindful of themselves and their belongings.”
Many of the apartment complexes lie in an area to the southeast of campus between Burbank and Nicholson Drives and also not far from the Tigerland bars.
For the areas around Burbank and Ben Hur Road, individuals have a 1 in 23 chance of becoming a victim of a property crime, according to neighborhoodscout.com, a website that breaks down neighborhood data.
Although car burglaries are the most frequent type of crime that students watch out for in the area, this does not mean they should shy away from protecting their homes and themselves.
LSU sophomore Brenna Achary fell victim to property crime at an apartment complex off Ben Hur Road, and she said the break-in at her apartment was one of the most traumatizing experiences she has ever been through.
Achary was up late waiting for her roommate to return home on a Friday night and left the door unlocked for her.
In a matter of minutes, an intruder broke into their apartment and started going through her belongings looking for money. Luckily, Achary said, there was no money stolen from her desk, but the intruder managed to steal over $300 from her roommate’s drawers. She said she had never seen the man before, but now she will never forget what he looked like.
Still, she said, “going through a break-in affected us in the best way possible. It made us realize that we need to be more cautious and to not only keep our front door locked, but also our bedroom doors while we are sleeping.”
She said the police officers who responded to the incident told her to keep the door locked and buy a gun.
“That made me feel even more uncomfortable,” she said, “Because what if they were to take the gun and use it on me?”
Instead, she settled for a taser and pepper spray that she now keeps on her nightstand.