It’s that time of year again: students are out, en masse, dressed up for another fun night of Halloween debauchery; every corner you turn you’re greeted by another pumpkin or scantily-clad nurse, or run over by a group of animal-attired lads on a Noah’s Ark themed Otley Run. Even those of you less inclined towards fancy dress are invited to join in the festivities, egged on, perhaps, by a rowdy group of teens while on your way to pick up a pizza for an innocent Friday night in. But what many of us forget, in the heat of all this light-hearted madness, is that as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, crime rates in the area are on the rise. Muggings, assaults and house burglaries are all too common in Leeds, especially at this time of year as winter fast approaches and the days get darker earlier.
Last month alone, there were approximately 90 reported cases of house burglaries in Hyde Park and Headingley, and it is estimated that 50 per cent of these are due to houses being left insecure. Lily Samengo-Turner was at a friend’s house when someone broke in: “I found a window wide open in one of the bedrooms, even though it had been closed, and there was a muddy footprint on the bed. Thinking this was a bit odd, I looked around the room to find my laptop, wallet, camera and phone were gone. We were pretty freaked out and thought they could still be in the house because we hadn’t heard them leave.” Lily said the police responded quickly to their phone call and, although they did not find the intruder, most of their possessions were claimed back on insurance because a mark left in the window proved forced entry to the house. Obviously, preventative measures for this kind of robbery are not failsafe, but locking doors and closing windows will reduce your risk considerably. An obviously empty house with no lights left on is an increased target for burglars at this time of year – and Halloween can provide risks of its own.
Last Halloween, Tom Hinton returned from an evening out to find that his house had been burgled and the door bolted from the inside. “We had a theory that thieves use trick or treat as an excuse to knock on doors to see if anyone’s home, and then if there is they can pretend they’re just out for Halloween.” Having seen that no one was in, burglars went to the back of the house where they spotted an open window on the second floor, before climbing through and locking the door from the inside so no one could get in. They had taken five laptops and a watch. Hinton said “I was very fortunate that nothing of mine was stolen, but it was very stressful for my housemates.”
Unfortunately, burglary is not the only danger as the nights draw in. It’s that time of year: the Halloween costumes come out, and so too does the rowdy behaviour.
Last night my own housemates and I were witnesses to an, albeit brief, attack on a couple of innocent male bystanders who were enjoying a late-night McDonald’s in town. The victims in question were sitting too close to a lovers’ quarrel, which ended with the man in question screaming, “Beer isn’t the root of all evil; women are the root of all evil!”, before throwing his Coke over said innocent bystanders. When they stood up to protest, the man punched one of them in the face, before being quickly tackled by McDonald’s staff and removed from the vicinity. Now, these random bouts of unexpected violence are, of course, most plentiful on a drunken night out, when testosterone-fuelled aggression gets the better of people, but unfortunately, occurrences like this are all too common. Luckily though, no one involved here was seriously injured, and it made for an entertaining end to our evening nonetheless.
Of course, not all incidents like this are completely random and without motive, and not all of them end so light-heartedly. Last year Leeds Student reported on a series of violent gang attacks and muggings in Woodhouse Moor and the surrounding area, resulting in one victim in need of treatment for severe facial injuries. The gangs were thought to be specifically targeting students on their walk home from University, with some attacks occurring as early as 6pm. Although this high level of violence is very unusual, assaults and muggings on students in general are not uncommon, and it’s important to bear your safety in mind when walking alone at night.
Third year Arabic student Monty Wilson was recently victim to an assault after a night out at the Union. “These guys were waiting for us down the road. They’d been kicked out after a scuffle inside earlier and they just jumped us from behind. I remember getting punched in the face and knocked out and when I woke up my friends were carrying me away. One friend of mine was in a pretty bad way but luckily none of us was seriously injured. We laugh about the incident now but make no mistake, it could’ve been a lot worse.” The University Student Advice Centre offers help to those who have been victims of crime in Leeds and also gives advice on how to stay safe and ensure it doesn’t happen to you. They work closely with local police in an attempt to make Leeds safer at night, so it’s important to remember their recommendations when out and about.
Matt Guy, police liaison officer for Leeds University, told Leeds Student:
“Our local crime figures are lower than I have ever seen in my eight years working in Leeds, with Burglaries and Street Crime falling fast and our communities safer than ever. But, and isn’t there always a big but, thieves love the onset of darker nights. It gives them the longer cover of night to hide in, and a false confidence to commit more crime. It means they go out “grafting” earlier and finish later and we see a traditional increase in crime. Now we work hard all year round, yet even we are having a huge push at this time of year and are targeting all our available resources and overtime budgets into keeping you and your mates safe as well as keeping Operation Optimal going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“What we ask is simple: please call us if you see anything suspicious or dodgy, and I mean anything; if someone is going around trying door handles or lurking about in your street, back gardens or alleyways, we need to know. Be a crime fighter and call us immediately on 101. Without your information we will be literally working in the dark.
“With criminals trying harder to nick your valuables you need to think harder and be proactive to make sure you’re not their next target. How simple is it to lock your doors, close your windows, at ALL times? So why don’t we all do it?’’
Words: Catherine Vale. Photo: Becki Bateman