The Latest Trend at Harvard: Crime

Crime is climbing in Cambridge. According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, the city's "total crime index" rose about 18 per cent last year. "Everything's gone up", says Detective John Powers, "except murder."

"Everything" means mostly property crimes. Housebreaks, bicycle and car thefts, purse-snatchings and street robberies are common in Cambridgeport, Riverside and Harvard Square.

Rising drug addiction may help explain why the rate goes up--and who is responsible for the rise. One Cambridge narcotics officer estimates that 60 per cent of crimes in the city are "drug-related".

Confidence operators and petty thieves traditionally prey on dormitory dwellers. The fall's bumper-crop of returning students is a god-send to rip-off artists. The situation is most dangerous in freshman dorms, where residents are apt to leave their doors open as they journey to communal bathrooms.

Even a locked door may not be an effective safeguard against theft in Harvard housing. Since most locks have been used for several years, there's no way of knowing how many former residents have keys, and how many copies have been passed around. And some spring-backed locks can be easily "slipped" with a thin metal strip or a piece of flexible celluloid--a Coop-card, for instance.


Because of "No Trespassing" signs posted in Harvard buildings, University Police are empowered to prosecute anyone they find inside a dorm who is not a visitor or a Harvard Students Agencies representative. Harvard Police urgently request students to report any suspicious people in or around dormitories.

Burglars often break into off-campus Cambridge housing through rear windows or by removing window-panes and door-panels. For apartment-dwellers, dogs and safety-locks are the best deterrent to housebreakers. A lock that can be opened only by a key--from outside or inside--prevents burglars from opening a door once they've broken a pane.

Leaving a bicycle unwatched anywhere near the Square is begging trouble. Local bike thieves, who prefer fancy 10-speed models, use bolt cutters to slice any chain light enough to carry. Provided you loop the chain around both wheels and the frame, a heavy chain is a good precaution.

Cars are almost as vulnerable to theft as bikes. More than 3,300 cars were stolen in Cambridge last year. Even with the doors locked and the windows rolled up, it's easy to get into any car with a coat hanger, to force the ignition with a screw-driver and drive away within seconds. If a thief wants to get you, it's hard to keep him from succeeding. As one Cambridge police lieutenant says, "We haven't even started to touch the creative genius of these people. We try to think how to prevent a crime, but we can't think like them." The best deterrents to car thieves are a locking steering column and an extra ignition switch hidden somewhere under the dash. For a thief whose best cover is a quick getaway, it usually isn't worth the wait to find the extra switch.

Since it's impossible to keep thieves from getting in--smashing the windshield is a convenient last resort--it's not wise to leave anything of value inside a car. If it has to be in the car, it's safer in the trunk than on the seat.

About 80 per cent of the cars stolen in Cambridge are recovered.

The chances of recovering stolen bicycles, stereos, TVs, tape-players, typewriters, and appliances aren't as good, but they're much better if you supply the serial number to police. And it's smart to scratch your driver's license number on any valuables that don't have serial numbers. Pawn shops regularly report the serial numbers of new items; these are usually the only positive identification police have for recovered stolen goods.

Between September and June of last year there were 45 major assaults in the college area reported to Harvard Police; these included 10 armed robberies. Avoiding an assault or a robbery on the street is easy walk with friends. If you don't have any, and you pass through an unlit or lonely part of town, it's unwise to carry money or anything of value. Two weeks ago, a man walking through the Cambridge Common late at night was asked for a dollar by two strangers. He took a dollar from his wallet. They took 99 more.

Sexual assaults on women last year were notoriously frequent. Three Radcliffe women were raped. Five out of the 11 major assaults reported to Harvard Police took place in the daytime. Cliffies started locking their doors.

As one junior said, "When I first got to Radcliffe they told me not to walk alone through Cambridge Common at night because of the rapes and murders there. I didn't believe them, and I walked through the Common. I still walk through the Common, but now I believe them.