Theft is the most common crime to occur at Ohio University and the second largest offense in Athens, but students and residents continue to keep their belongings unattended, doors unlocked and guards down.
From 2010 to 2012, the Athens Police Department received reports of 1,630 theft-related crimes and the Ohio University Police Department received 655 reports, according to records from APD and OUPD.
“If you look at what students are most likely to become a victim of while they’re here at OU, it’s probably theft,” OUPD Chief Andrew Powers said. “Most are crimes of opportunity, and campuses like ours, unfortunately, are a ripe opportunity for thieves.”
In most cases, thefts occur when people leave their valuables sitting unguarded in a public area, Powers said.
Since 2010, 55 thefts have been reported in Alden Library, 41 were reported in Baker Center and 34 were reported in Ping Recreation Center.
“You just have to walk through the dining hall to see how many unattended backpacks have been left on tables while people were going to get their food,” Powers said. “The easiest theft to perpetrate is walking past a table and picking up a backpack. It doesn’t require you to trespass.”
Nathan Wolfe, library assistant at Alden Library, said theft occurs most often in the library on the second floor.
“It happens on other floors, but it’s (the most) common on the second floor, because it has longer hours and is (usually) densely populated,” Wolfe said.
He added that people regularly leave cell phones and laptops unattended on the tables, which leads to a vast majority of the thefts.
“People will run off to the printer and then all of a sudden, their laptop is gone,” Wolfe said. “We look around, check lost and found and tell patrons to check back, or, if they’re sure it’s been stolen, to contact OUPD.”
Tom Pyle, chief of the Athens Police Department, said students often perceive the city to be safe because of its size and location, while full-time residents tend to be more vigilant.
“People show up in Athens and see how small it is, and they just assume that none of this stuff happens like in their home community,” Pyle said. “The fact is that Athens is no different than the larger urban communities.”
The OUPD and APD are not required to issue crime alerts when a theft occurs. However, when a theft is considered an ongoing threat to the community, both the OUPD and APD will issue press releases.
“I don’t believe for a minute that people would read it if we sent an email every time something was stolen,” Powers said. “I still think the default mindset for most students is, ‘I don’t have to worry about that because it’s not going to happen to me.’”
Emily Waler, a senior studying communication sciences and disorders, said getting an alert every time a theft occurred would be “annoying” because theft happens so often.
She added that she feels safe leaving her belongings unattended in campus buildings.
“I would feel more comfortable leaving my stuff (in Alden) instead of a public library (in my hometown),” Waler said. “The population here is more of the same kind of people, mostly students and teachers.”
However, Pyle said being overly trusting often plays into the hand of the perpetrator. He said theft is preventable in some situations by being more cautious and aware.
“To say, ‘I’ll leave my stuff here, but please don’t take it,’ that’s just not going to work,” Pyle said. “What people can control is opportunity. That’s typically what (perpetrators) look for, those opportunities to prey on the willing, meek and trusting.”