After burglary, College Houses plans to update security at co-ops

Will Clark

In the middle of a party at the 21st Street Co-op in mid-July, former radio-television-film student Valeria Andrea stood crying. A burglar had drilled a hole in her door and stole her laptop, causing Andrea to go down to the party and hold up a sign with a picture of her laptop that read: “Don’t steal me.”

A co-op, short for cooperative, is a housing community in which residents also work and maintain the property. According to Jack Collis, a representative at the 21st Street Co-op, there have been several incidents of crime at other co-op houses, especially over the summer. This semester, College Houses, which oversees the 21st Street house and six other co-ops in West Campus, is looking to improve security measures at their houses.

 “We’ve taken steps to address this [burglary],” Collis said. “Namely installing new locks on our outward facing doors and investing in CCTV cameras for common spaces. We’ve also assigned students to do security labor during concerts.”

Jacob Pietsch, membership director for College Houses, which oversees seven co-ops in West Campus, said no particular incidents have sparked updates in security and that events like this are fairly uncommon. The College Houses board is still weighing options, such as installing card readers, numbered keypads, cameras and fences, but cameras have yet to be installed.

“We have an ongoing interest in security,” Pietsch said. “The best way to keep out intruders is for residents to talk to each other and know each other so when they see a person they don’t know they can report suspicious activity.”

 According to Pietsch, there have also been reports of break-ins where an intruder poses as someone coming to buy an item from a resident at the co-op but would then rob that resident. These incidents have been reported at the 21st Street Co-op ,as well as the German House and White Hall Co-ops, which are not managed by College Houses. There were no official police reports for these types of incidents.

 Grace Kirk, social coordinator at the 21st Street Co-op, said she and several other students had not heard of any such security updates.

 “Is that for real?” Kirk asked when told about the cameras. “[They] don’t tell me anything.”

 Mateas Scheff, a psychology sophomore at Austin Community College, also lives at the 21st Street Co-Op and has not heard of any cameras, adding they wouldn’t work because there would need to be too many cameras to cover the entire property.

 “There’s people out here all the time,” Scheff said. “It’s an impenetrable fortress. We don’t really need security cameras. It’s an isolated incident, and I don’t think security is a problem here.”

 Angela Atwood, executive director at College Houses, oversees all seven co-ops the organization manages and would not comment on the burglary at 21st Street or confirm the investments in cameras, but said the board is looking into security.

 “We always discuss safety and security at the board level and at the house level,” Atwood said. “We’re always trying to improve our safety.”

Austin Police Department was not able to comment on these incidents.

This story has been updated since its original publication.