Theft Expected to Rise Amid In-Person Classes

Binder and tote bag lay easily accessible in a classroom. Elise Gregg / PantherNOW

Elise Gregg / Staff Writer

Students can do a lot more with in-person learning — like getting personal belongings stolen. 

After a year of remote learning, FIU police expect a rise in theft as students return to campus this fall. Laptops, phones and bags are often stolen when left unattended. 

“[Students] share a goal: they’re here to get an education,” said FIU police captain Delrish Moss. “They need the same types of equipment that other students have, so people who steal the items are typically people who need the items.”

Moss described these as “crimes of opportunity,” where people steal things simply because they’re there. While some items make it to the lost-and-found, others don’t.

FIU crime logs show many “crimes of opportunity” are reported on campus. Over 100 incidents of theft were recorded in 2019 alone, with an average of about 16 thefts per month.

This year, the majority of crime occurs at Modesto Maidique Campus, according to the 2021 logs. There were 50 incidents of theft at MMC compared to four at BBC.

Heavily populated buildings show higher rates of theft, such as parking garages and the Graham Center. However, dorms had the highest rate of theft at MMC with about 20 incidents in 2021 so far.

While campus was quiet in 2020 during the pandemic, cases increased during Summer 2021 as students returned to in-person classes.

FIUPD expects crime to rise as students, faculty and staff return.

The graph shows theft rates at FIU between 2019 to 2021, according to FIUPD crime logs. Graphic by Elise Gregg / PantherNOW

Phones, wallets and laptops are most commonly stolen, but larger items such as bikes and scooters aren’t always safe either.

FIU alum Nicholas Velasquez was a freshman in 2017 when two bikes were stolen from him at Modesto Maidique Campus.

The first time, he blamed himself for not locking up his bike at night. The second time, someone cut his lock.

Police told Velasquez to check if his bike was at another rack, but the search led him nowhere.

He contacted the FIU Police Department (FIUPD), who worked with Sweetwater police and the Mobil gas station across from MMC, to catch the perpetrators on camera. 

The footage from FIU security cameras was inaccessible, Velasquez explained. 

“[The footage] was out of domain… as of 2017, there was no visual,” he said. This meant the footage from older cameras could not be played through the newer system.

FIUPD eventually tracked down two high school students who sold the bikes for parts. However, Velasquez wasn’t informed when they were caught; he had to reach out himself to get an answer from FIUPD. 

Additionally, the perpetrators’ names were not disclosed to Velasquez, as they were minors. Because of this, Velasquez could not take legal action.

With his bikes long gone and sold, Velasquez suffered about a $600 loss. 

Velasquez wished FIUPD kept an open line of communication and informed him when the thieves were found. 

Velasquez encouraged students to be mindful of surroundings, and avoid times or areas where crime might be high. 

“It’s a great campus…[but] try to find a way to not walk around at night,” said Velasquez.

Theft does not only affect students.

FIU employees who work in densely populated areas, such as libraries, are also responsible for keeping an eye on crime. However, some say they are unsure of their role in preventing theft. 

Jonathan Rojas, a library assistant at the Green Library, said they lack procedures in reporting theft because it is difficult to witness.

“In the case that it does happen… [where] a laptop is left on the desk, anybody can grab it, walk out and for all we know, that’s their laptop,” said Rojas. 

Fortunately, he added, when people lose items they typically get them back. In cases of theft, they usually call FIUPD and check library cameras. 

Lily Mesa, another library assistant at the Green Library, said awareness of the issue is one thing that could make returning items much easier.

“[Sometimes people] know that we have a lost-and-found, or they come and return those things…but a lot of people don’t know about that,” said Mesa.

Mesa said she would feel better equipped to do her job if more students knew about the lost-and-found.

Like the library, Graham Center employees are expected to redirect students to FIUPD if they suspect an item was stolen.

“There are different hotlines that [students] can call,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of students don’t know that so they usually call the emergency number [for non-emergencies].”

The non-emergency FIUPD number is 305-348-2626 and 5911 for emergencies.

Although theft can be a serious problem on university campuses, there are practical ways to prevent it.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Moss. “I think the best prevention is many eyes, so watch out for your friends.”

For campus employees, Moss emphasized quick action and integrity are most important.

“If you see somebody walking from something or you see something unsecure…turn it in to where the lost and found is or turn it in to the police,” said Moss.

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