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The Daily Tar Heel

As theft on campus continues to rise, students share their experiences

Theft cases have more than tripled since 2020, vehicular theft a major contributor

At 4:40 p.m. on Monday, an individual reported the theft of their electric scooter from Kenan Stadium. 

This incident is one of the latest in an upward trend in crime on campus: reports of stolen property rose to 92 incidents in the 2021-22 academic year from 55 incidents in 2018-19 — an even larger increase from just 5 in 2014-15.

First-year Vanessa Hansmann had two consecutive classes in a large lecture hall in the Genome Science Building. At the end of her first class, she moved forward to sit with a friend in the second class.

But halfway through her second class, she realized that she had left her recently-purchased jacket about five rows away – only to find when she went to retrieve it that someone had already taken it.

“It’s actually kind of funny, and it’s actually really annoying, because I didn’t leave the room where my jacket was stolen in between me leaving my jacket by itself and it being stolen,” Hansmann said.

She also said one of her friends had gone through a similar situation. The friend brought a brand new camera to a party, set it down somewhere and then came back a few minutes later only to find it gone, Hansmann said.

Brian James, chief of UNC Police, said thefts often occur when property is left temporarily unattended in public spaces, creating critical windows for crimes of opportunity to occur. 

On a map depicting cases of theft reported to UNC Police since 2015, areas with heavy traffic on campus stand out.

“When you talk about the dining halls, the library, the Pit area – those are areas where we occasionally will have someone call us and say, ‘My book bag was stolen, my laptop, my digital device.’ Whatever the case is, those are typically the most popular items that are stolen,” he said.

In addition to the string of thefts in areas with heavy foot traffic, James said thefts often occur in unsecured residence halls. Last fall, a series of thefts in Hinton James Residence Hall prompted UNC Police to issue a campus-wide crime alert to students that included tips for keeping their belongings safe. 

Sophomore Marleigh Purgar-McDonald, who parks her car on campus during the week, said she has met several students whose property was taken from their cars in the Rams Head Parking Deck and Ehringhaus Parking Lot.

“The main things that I heard about were people who had left their cars unlocked by accident. People had just taken some cash that had been in the car, some other personal belongings that happened to be there,” she said.

In some cases, outbreaks of theft in a given area can be traced back to one individual. Police traced a series of larcenies in biology buildings on campus to one man last October. James said the number of thefts in Hinton James “severely declined” after police made an arrest in the fall, tracing some of the stolen property to nearby reselling shops.

“When somebody’s stealing items like that, they’re trying to turn them over really fast for cash,” James said. “If they steal your PlayStation, they’re probably not going to go home and play PlayStation. They’re probably going to a pawn shop to try and get some money from it. That’s one of the common things we do across jurisdictions, tracking places like that that take in items is pretty common.”

James said a common thread between cases of theft reported by students was students leaving belongings unattended and unwatched — on a table in a crowded dining hall, in an unlocked car or in an unsecured room.

“The biggest thing is that so many doors are left open in the residence halls,” James said. “When you’re running down the hall or using the facilities, whatever the case is, you have to lock those doors. The other part is just when you’re in common areas. I’ve witnessed students just kind of set their book bag next to a tree and go off and do something. I think we have a very safe campus, but also keep in mind that we have an open campus.”

James recommends that students keep their belongings secure and avoid leaving them unattended in public areas.


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