A friendly, safe little town. That’s Wageningen’s reputation. And yet in a period of six weeks this autumn, there were 16 break-ins in student houses. ‘I had closed the big window, but the little hinged window was ajar.’
texst Luuk Zegers illustration Inge van der Wal
When she came back from a weekend at home and opened the door of her room in Hoevestein, Tessa van den Bemt got quite a shock. Cupboards open, her stuff all over the floor, footprints on the bed and the window forced open. The burglars had taken jewellery and a Bluetooth speaker. Van den Bemt’s piggy bank lay in pieces too. ‘Luckily I’m not very materialistic,’ says the 21-year-old Master’s student of Biology. ‘The main thing is, it’s a nasty idea that they went rifling through my things.’ She estimates the total value of the stolen goods at about 200 euros. ‘I had my laptop and phone with me, luckily, so they couldn’t take those.’
Van den Bemt is one of 16 Wageningen students whose rooms were broken into between 27 August and 14 October. ‘You see it every year at the end of the summer,’ says Jos Smits of the Wageningen police. ‘As soon as the days get shorter, the number of break-ins goes up.’ But this year’s spike was extraordinary, says Smits. ‘Sixteen break-ins in six weeks is an awful lot. You can call that a burglary wave.’
In the whole of 2017, 20 break-ins were reported to the police by students; the running total for 2018 is already at 28. And it could still go up, although the burglary wave seems to have died down. Smit: ‘In November there has only been one break-in so far.’ But of course every break-in is one too many. A bit more awareness and alertness wouldn’t do any harm, says Smit. Van den Bemt: ‘Students often think burglaries don’t happen in little Wageningen. I thought that too. We all fall for it.’
After the break-in, Van den Bemt wanted to clean up her room as soon as possible, but she had to wait until forensic research had been completed. ‘It took two days before they came, so I had to wait two days before I could tidy up. As soon as the research was finished, I started washing, vacuuming and scrubbing. It’s a nasty idea that you don’t know what they have touched.’
Van den Bemt lives on the first floor of Hoevestein. ‘The burglars probably came up the fire escape, the door of which is often open, right onto the walkway,’ she says. Because one of her curtains was open, the thieves could look in to see whether there were any valuables in the room. Even though there was no laptop or phone in sight, they still thought it was worth going in. ‘I had closed the big window but the little hinged window above it was ajar. They forced that wider open and then they could open the big window.’
A lot of hassle
Although burglars usually choose moments when people are not at home, as happened to Van den Bemt, a few crooks are brazen enough to strike when people are at home. That happened to Cecilia Casonato (2) recently. The Master’s student of Food Safety lives on the Droevendaalststeeg. ‘I came home from work and opened my bedroom window to air it. Then I went to have dinner with my housemates. Twenty minutes later my backpack was gone, with everything in it. Laptop, telephone, papers, my proof of enrolment. Luckily I had my passport on me.’
There were six people at home when the bag was taken from Casonato’s room. ‘That’s not a nice feeling. You want to assume that everyone is respectful. But apparently there are people who see an open window as an opportunity. That’s sad. Apart from that, it’s a lot of hassle and takes up a lot of time. Blocking bank cards, credit cards, and all that. I’m a cautious person. But this shows you can never be cautious enough.’
3 tips for preventing break-ins
Wageningen neighbourhood policeman Jos Smits gives a couple of simple tips that can help you make things as difficult as possible for burglars:
- Lock all doors and windows before you leave, even the little hinged windows. They are often used to ‘fish’ to open big windows.
- Don’t leave valuable items visible. Thieves are less likely to break in if they get the impression there’s nothing worth stealing.
- If you live in one of the tower blocks and you go out via the fire escape, close the door behind you. Otherwise thieves can easily get into the building.