Car break-ins, other thefts are high at Columbia student apartments. What police reports show

Dozens of crimes have been reported each year at private, off-campus student apartments surrounding the University of South Carolina in and around downtown Columbia, police reports show. Trends in the reports show that Columbia college students, many of whom are forced to live off campus due to a persistent lack of sufficient on-campus housing at USC, are susceptible to thefts and, sometimes, more violent crimes.

The State and The Daily Gamecock newspapers recently published a joint analysis of the student housing environment for USC students, finding that upperclassmen at the university’s flagship campus struggle to find reliable and affordable housing as more and more students are added to the student body.

USC’s housing shortage leaves upperclassmen scrambling, with no plans to close the gap

As part of the reporting process for that story, the two publications requested incident reports from four private student apartment complexes between January 2021 and November 2023 to determine what issues the Columbia Police Department was responding to at off-campus student housing.

The reports showed the majority of incidents were tied to theft or car break-ins, but they also noted several violent incidents, including among students as well as a handful in which a student was attacked by a stranger.

For example, twice at the end of 2021 – once in November and once the day before Christmas – residents at The Station at Five Points apartments at the intersection of Harden and Gervais streets were robbed at gunpoint outside of the apartment.

At Greene Crossing apartments, one person in late 2021 reported being violently assaulted while waiting for a friend at the property’s parking lot. An unknown person got into the car, beat the victim and robbed him at gunpoint, according to an incident report from the police department.

Columbia Police Captain Cynthia Waggoner agreed that auto break-ins are the top crime problem at student apartments.

“It’s exciting to see the growth,” Waggoner said of the influx of student apartments downtown. But, “it has created some challenges … as we learn to interact with a large, younger population.”

The State received 16 incident reports from The Hub on Main Street, 31 from Greene Crossing in the Vista, 37 from The Row at the Stadium on Shop Road and 89 incidents at The Station at Five Points, all reported over a roughly three-year period.

At Greene Crossing on Pulaski Street, roughly 40% of the reported incidents involved an auto break-in or some other incident involving the apartment’s parking garage.

In one 2022 incident, two people entered the parking garage at the apartment complex and stole a golf cart, in addition to tools and HVAC parts.

Greene Crossing’s property manager, Amanda Williams, said that since ownership of the apartments changed in 2022, management has added a handful of new security features, including fobs for entry into the parking garage.

Two Columbia police officers also live at Greene Crossing, serving as “courtesy officers” who do nightly patrols of the property and report directly to Williams, she said.

Waggoner said most student apartments downtown do have courtesy officers, like Greene Crossing. She also said any apartment complex can request a courtesy officer live at their property, not just downtown student apartments.

At The Station, 28 of the 89 incident reports, or about 31%, involved some form of larceny, or personal property theft.

Another issue student apartments have is keeping non-residents out, Waggoner said.

“It is a challenge for them to keep the doors secure,” though not for a lack of trying, Waggoner said, adding that a personalized key fob won’t be effective with a rock propping open the door.

USC does not endorse or promote any student apartment, said Derenzo Thomas, the assistant director for community engagement in the Leadership and Service Center. Instead, he tells students and parents to do research on apartments and use the Community Crime Map to help make a decision about where is best to live.

When students come forward with safety concerns, Thomas and Director of the Leadership and Service Center Ambra Hiott talk with the property managers to see how the apartment’s management will address the issues.

Read the reports yourself using the table attached to this article.

Alexa Jurado of The State and Kate Robins, Marley Bassett, Riley Edenbeck and Win Hammond of The Daily Gamecock contributed reporting.