The Dept. of Public Safety reported an increase in the number of thefts from parked vehicles on and off campus this semester.
Contrary to popular belief, many of these crimes occurred during broad daylight, according to DPS Crime Analyst and Crime Prevention Specialist Wyman Thomas.
“We’re talking during business hours, during the day when people are here,” Thomas said of the recent spike in burglaries.
Items that are visible from outside the car — most often portable GPS systems — have been most susceptible to theft, according to the reports. Other items, such as iPods and spare change left in cup holders of the front seat, have been tempting enough to trigger thieves to smash car windows or pry open doors to force entry, Wyman said.
Paige Garrett, a junior majoring in public relations who parks her car near campus weekly, said the recent thefts are a good reminder to maintain caution.
“It’s easy to forget that we’re not in the safest area,” Garrett said. “You don’t even think someone would want your GPS or spare change. But it’s a good lesson to remember for anywhere.”
DPS Capt. David Carlisle said such thefts can be easily avoided simply by taking extra precaution to ensure that valuables are kept out of sight or are removed from parked vehicles altogether.
“Many of these thefts could probably be prevented if the items were hidden,” Carlisle said. “[Thefts] can occur so quickly that it’s difficult to catch them, so what we want is the cooperation of the student body to not give them the opportunity.”
As a note of caution to students, DPS has come up with a slogan to remind students that thefts can be prevented: “Lock it, hide it, keep it.”
Though some streets off campus are lined with the security staff to help prevent crime, limited parking around campus forces many students to take the risk of parking on public streets that are not as well guarded. The most recent theft reports, however, indicate that no area of parking seems to be safer than another.
“It’s all over the place actually,” said Thomas, who noted that the primary method of break-ins has been by shattering the passenger-side window. “Mostly off-campus and west of Vermont Avenue, but sometimes on-campus also.”
In addition to vehicle crime, DPS has also noticed an increase in on-campus crimes — most commonly the theft of laptops from academic buildings, according to Thomas.
“We’ve had a spree of thefts in several buildings on campus,” Thomas said. “These are the same thieves. They are walking about through our buildings and they blend in with the student population.”
Carlisle urges students to refrain from leaving items such as laptops or backpacks unattended, even if they are in one’s dorm room, as strangers can easily enter and exit through an unlocked door in a matter of minutes.
“It only takes a moment for a thief, who may look very much like a student, maybe with a backpack and a USC hat or sweatshirt on, to grab the unattended laptop and put it in the backpack,” Carlisle said.
Though DPS can continue to bulk up on-campus security, thieves who blend in with the student body can be nearly impossible to catch. Given the widespread perimeters of campus and the surrounding area, DPS has been unable to capture any of the thefts on video.
According to DPS, the only fool-proof way to prevent theft is to deny thieves the chance.
“It’s as simple as not giving the thieves the opportunity,” Carlisle said. “Public safety is a shared responsibility. Don’t leave something out that is going to attract the attention of a crook.”