By Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

An unlocked dorm room. An unattended backpack in a cafeteria. A laptop left in the backseat of a car.

If you are a thief, these might be on your Christmas wish list. If you’re not, these are probably situations to avoid.

Theft is a fact of life at Western, but how much of a problem is it?

A Jan. 15 article in The Western Front ran with the headline, “Theft runs rampant,” and reported that campus police took 172 reports on cases of theft in 2009.

However, a single statistic from last year does not tell the entire story and examining the trend of reports over the past few years gives a clearer picture of the issue of theft on campus.
University Police Sergeant Bianca Smith said it is unfortunate that any theft occurs, but she did not think the trend over the past few years has shown a significant increase in the number of reports.

“I don’t know if we want to say theft is running rampant,” Smith said.

Smith said that campus police records on theft are separated and classified into a number of different types, including theft from buildings, from cars, shoplifting, bicycle thefts and even thefts of shopping carts.

According to campus police records on reports of theft from buildings (which Smith said are the most common), first-degree theft reports, involving stolen items worth $5,000 or more, did increase from 3 reports in 2008 to 7 in 2009, but the total number last year is only a slight increase from six reports from 2006.

Second-degree thefts, which include stolen items worth between $750 and $5,000, rose from 19 in 2008 to 28 in 2009. But last year’s total is lower than the 30 reports taken from 2006.

Third-degree thefts, involving items under $750, do show a steady increase from 19 cases in 2006 to 34 in 2009.

Campus police and residence hall staff both work to inform students and faculty how to protect themselves against theft.

John Purdie, associate director for Residence Life, said incoming students are given information on preventing theft as part of their campus orientation.

He said nearly all theft cases he was aware of could have been easily prevented and involved unsecure items left in clear view of a potential thief.

The Residence Life office tells students to protect themselves by remembering to always lock their doors, even at night when they’re asleep. Students should only let people they know in their rooms and if someone knocks on their door they should make sure they know the person before they let them in.

Besides locking doors, students should also keep track of their keys and not lend them to anyone.

These tips seem like basic common sense, but there are also other ways residence halls try to deter theft from students’ dorm rooms.

Purdie said one method is to promote a sense of community among students and encourage them to get to know everyone they live with.

“When you know who lives on your floor you can recognize who doesn’t,” he said.

Smith encouraged students to register their bicycles with campus police and write down the serial numbers on more expensive items, as those serial numbers can prove useful when police try to track down stolen possessions.

Smith said stolen property can be found resold in pawn shops or on Craigslist and being able to match serial numbers with items is an invaluable tool in reuniting people with their stolen belongings.

Smith also said students who live in dorms should always know everyone who might have access to their room, including their own friends and any friends of roommates.
She echoed the tips from residence hall staff telling students to always keep their valuable possessions locked up.

“You need to lock your doors,” she said.