For some students, larceny costs a few dollars and the hassle of cancelled credit cards. For another student who was careful to take his laptop and cell phone with him as he briefly left his seat at a library, a whole semester’s worth of work disappeared as a thief made off with the hard drive away tucked in his backpack.
In a security bulletin e-mailed to the University community yesterday, the University’s Department of Public Safety encouraged vigilance on the part of students as the semester winds down in order to prevent larceny. The bulletin stated that the University has faced a 32 percent increase in the number of larcenies compared to last year, with 190 so far this academic year.
In an extended version of the bulletin posted on the Department’s website, Interim DPS Chief Joseph Piersante said the stolen items — specifically laptops — can be traded directly for narcotics like heroin and cocaine.
“We’ve had a significant increase in larceny reports in 2012,” Piersante said in the bulletin. “We have made a number of arrests of career criminals who have targeted our community. But we still have predators around.”
E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, said the University is taking steps to promote student awareness and security, particularly in residence halls. She added that the University is also considering adding security cameras on Central Campus to deter crimes.
“There’s been conversations about more cameras,” Harper said. “What we’re trying to find (is) that balance between this being an easy place to be and being safe. You don’t want so many cameras that you feel watched an invaded upon, but you don’t want so few that they don’t help with the deterrent.”
Harper added that extra vigilance during the final days of the semester is especially important.
“It’s easy around final time to get lax,” Harper said. “There are some bad people who prey on students, and they know our rhythm better than we do.”
DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said most larcenies occur outside of residence halls where students leave items unattended for brief periods of time, noting that break-ins and home invasions are comparatively more rare than larcenies. Some of the items reported as stolen in the security bulletin were later recovered, according to Brown, but returns are rare.
“All of the residence halls have cameras at all of their entrances and exits, which has been a significant deterrent and also has assisted in solving some crimes,” Brown said. “It is notable in locations where cameras do exist that they have often been helpful in quickly solving crimes, particularly larcenies.”
Brown added that DPS has continued a dialogue with University administrators about installing cameras in areas with higher incident rates. A committee within the University has been looking to formulate a uniform policy for camera systems across campus, but those guidelines are not developed.
According to Brown, most crimes are not committed by University students but rather by outside “predators.”
“People do need to secure their laptops, and their backpacks, and their wallets in particular,” Brown said. “These are the things thieves are targeting.”
However, groups such as the University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union take a skeptical view of the use of cameras in public space in deterring crime.
Public Policy senior Bennett Stein, ACLU and Ann Arbor Privacy board member, said adding more cameras on campus is “ill advised” and ineffective at reducing crime.
“As we continue to move forward with our technologies, we need to consider what these technologies are doing to our fundamental liberties and fundamental rights,” Stein said.
Stein cited the right to privacy, even in public spaces, as a primary concern for both groups.
“My experience has been that DPS is concerned with solving crime and promoting public safety,” Stein said. “But we would hope that now and in the future they’re engaging us more in the discussion of how they can protect civil liberties as well.”
LSA sophomore Ellen Steele, outgoing chair of the University’s chapter of the ACLU and a member of the DPS Oversight Committee, said the group generally opposes the use of cameras and sees them as an undue infringement upon the rights of citizens.
“We in Ann Arbor have supported an effort to create an oversight committee to oversee the use of security cameras in public spaces,” Steele said. “We would support an effort like that on campus.”
However, Steele said the efforts to reach out to the University community through education and crime alerts were a progressive step for DPS.
“I think it’s good to have transparency with the police department,” Steele said.
Steele was not able to comment on discussions within the DPS Oversight Committee because the issues are bound by confidentiality.