Analysis of a year’s worth of campus crime shows high-risk locations, items

He walked through King Library late one night, peering keenly into cubicles and study tables. He knew exactly what he was looking for — an unattended laptop or a backpack with an open zipper,
revealing an iPad.

When he finds one such laptop, it’s almost too easy. He approaches the shiny Macbook, no owner in sight. He leans down, places a card on the laptop and walks away.

He’s a Miami University police officer, and he’s not there to steal — quite the contrary. The card he left reads, “This time it was a police officer, but maybe next time it won’t be.” They’re called “gotcha cards” and they are part of a Miami University Police Department (MUPD) initiative to reduce theft on campus.

Police Chief John McCandless said he hopes the cards will cause students to keep an eye on their valuables.

“It’s frustrating for the victim,” McCandless said. “They’re out something they have to replace.”

Between Oct. 4, 2014 and Oct. 5, 2015, 176 reported incidences of theft occurred on the Oxford campus, according to MUPD records.

The most common items taken were bicycles (29), laptops and iPads (17) and clothing (12). Under the category of money, meaning either cash or a wallet, there were 25 incidences of theft.

When specified in the reports, among stolen laptops and iPads, nine were unsecured and/or left unattended.

Most overall thefts on campus occurred at the Recreational Sports Center (23), the Armstrong Student Center (10), King Library (6) and the Shriver Center (5).

Among the 10 thefts from ASC, three of them were couch cushions and in two of those cases, a male and female student, respectively, were arrested and the cushions returned.

Among residence halls, Maplestreet Station leads the pack with five thefts, followed by Morris Hall, Etheridge Hall and Emerson Hall, which each had four.

Out of the 176 reported incidents, seven cases specified the stolen item(s) were found and returned, two cases specified individuals arrested for the theft and in one case, an individual was stopped in the act of the theft.

In the 29 incidences of a stolen bicycle, four were specified as locked and four as unlocked on the bike rack. The rest were not specified one way or another.

Of those seven cases where items were returned, two involved bicycles. On Nov. 20 of last year, a bicycle was found and turned into MUPD. Then Sep. 25 of this year, a bicycle was discovered by an MUPD officer and returned to the owner.

McCandless said bikes are hard to recover because most people don’t keep the documents associated with the bike.

“Bikes are a little nondescript,” McCandless said. “Part of the dilemma is the descriptions are pretty vague.”

However, MUPD, like other police departments in the country, put the stolen property, if they do have a serial number or the brand associated with it, into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Database. The stolen item stays in the system for two or three years, and if a different department recovered the stolen item, they would notify MUPD.

Lieutenant Jim Bechtolt said most bikes are actually not stolen, but rather abandoned. For instance, last year he said MUPD recovered 200 to 250 abandoned bicycles, which were auctioned off with proceeds absorbed into the university.

Among wallet thefts specifically mentioned in the reports, 15 such incidents occurred, and of those 15, 12 took place at the Recreational Sports Center, either in the men’s locker room or in the basketball court area.

Last April was a particularly bad time for wallet theft at the Rec Center. April 25 started it off with the theft of a wallet from the basketball court area. The next day, there were two more instances, and then just three days later, three more incidents on the same day from the lockers or the basketball court area. A day after those thefts, there was another incident on April 30.

In all seven cases within that four-day period, the reports noted the wallet was left “unattended” and/or “unsecured” and in five of those seven cases, the theft occurred in the basketball court area. In the two cases that occurred in the men’s locker room, the reports also noted the wallet was taken from an unlocked locker.

McCandless said that it’s frustrating for him because MUPD has tried to make it known that the Rec Center has a lock program. McCandless said they went to Walmart and bought 10 locks so people going to the Rec Center without a lock can use one free of charge, if the person in need presents an ID.

There are also signs posted around the locker room informing users about the lock program.

“When people use locks like they’re supposed to, thefts go down to goose egg,” McCandless said. “We have to remind people not to leave things unattended; not victim-blaming, but you have to be responsible.”

There are security cameras at the Rec Center, which McCandless said have been helpful. But of course, the cameras can’t go into the men’s locker room, nor are there enough resources to view those cameras in real-time.

And for the officers, if the incident is the theft of a credit card, that brings the hassle of involving other agencies when the perpetrator uses the credit card in different jurisdictions.

There are good samaritans, however. For instance, Jan. 30 of last year, a wallet was found on Bonham Road and turned into MUPD.

Some other oddball items taken throughout the last year included three instances of stolen fire extinguishers (one in which two at one time were taken), a vacuum cleaner (which was specified in the report as being an “upright” vacuum cleaner), and an emergency backup light at Thomson Hall (it was initially ripped off the wall, the RA stored it in a common closet and then it was stolen).

During last year’s winter break, an Apple TV was stolen from Porter Hall.

There were also five incidents of copper stolen around the construction sites at Miami, including an incident Feb. 25 of this year when approximately 400 pounds of it was stolen.

McCandless said the problem with tracking down copper thieves is parsing who the thieves are from the construction workers on the site. There’s no way to know when trucks are going in and out or who is who.

“That scrap metal is so valuable,” McCandless said.

McCandless said he thinks most theft crime on campus is preventable.

“It’s a crime of opportunity,” McCandless said. “We don’t get James Bond here at 3 a.m. trying to steal things.”

McCandless’ Three Tips to Prevent Theft

  1. Lock your things up. Don’t leave car or lockers unlocked.
  2. Don’t leave items unattended, like laundry and expensive electronics.
  3. Know where your things are at all times.

“If you do those three things, you’re not likely to be a victim of theft,” McCandless said. “It’s an undue amount of stress that theft causes. If we followed these three rules, we would dramatically reduce thefts.”