Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A Public Safety notice sent out to all students yesterday announced more thefts of student property in McCabe. The Gazette separately investigated another incident of backpack theft that occurred over the weekend, bringing the count of incidents of stolen student property to six within one week.
Melinda Yang ’10, a student worker at McCabe, explained that two reports of thefts occurred during her shift. “A student came and reported his laptop was stolen from the 2nd floor of McCabe. He went to the restroom, and when he came back, his laptop was gone.” Shortly after, another student came to the front desk and reported her cell phone was taken from the lobby of McCabe. While the cell phone was in plain view, the laptop had been covered.
Michael Roswell ’11 explained that his backpack went missing on Saturday afternoon. “I had just finished eating, and was walking to Parrish when I realized that I left my backpack behind.” He went back to Sharples approximately 15 minutes later, but the backpack was no longer there. “I gave up the search and hoped it would turn up. When I didn’t, I called Public Safety and reported the incident.”
According to Owen Redgrave, Director of Public Safety, there are still no solid leads in the investigation. “We had some reports of individuals who weren’t students, but they weren’t doing anything particularly suspect,” he explained. Anything regarding the identity of the thief (or thieves) is pure speculation. “We like to believe that this isn’t something internal, but you never know,” said Peggy Seiden, the Head Librarian at McCabe. Yang speculates that it may be someone outside of the college community because McCabe is so accessible by the public. “It’s an easy picking spot. Anyone can come and go freely,” she says.
The sudden upsurge in thefts is disturbing to such a small, trusting college community. Seiden says that this trust is at the heart of the issue. “The problem is that students get complacent because Swarthmore is such a small, safe town.”
McCabe has had spikes of theft several times throughout the past few years. “Three years ago, we had theft of staff and student personal property. We had credit cards and wallets being stolen from staff drawers” explains Seiden. “The thieves were actually part of a ring–these people hired students to carry out the theft because they blended right in.” They were caught once a credit card purchase tipped the authorities off.
There is little Public Safety or the library can do to make McCabe more secure. Because McCabe has a repository of federal documents, it can’t limit access by the public. “It also wouldn’t be good for town-gown relations,” says Seiden.
“Before the security systems installed at the door, we used to have students who would literally sit and check every single backpack,” explains Seiden. These checks were done to make sure that students were not able to steal library property, and were no longer required once scanning devices were installed in 2000. “But that would be a huge infringement on student privacy, and I can’t imagine us implementing such a system.”
There are also doubts as to whether increasing the number of student or security patrols in public areas would prove to be a deterrent. Owen Redgrave, Director of Public Safety, said that Public Safety officials were making more rounds throughout the day or night. But the nature of these thefts make it very difficult to catch someone in the act. “It takes two seconds to pick up a phone and put it in your pocket. Even if we did have officials dispatched 24 hours a day, I doubt it would do too much good,” he explained.
Seiden explained that another option is putting lockers on every floor, which would allow students to secure their valuables. Implementing lockers had been discussed as part of bigger renovations to McCabe, but Seiden says that there is no reason why the library couldn’t consider them seriously now. “The difficulty here is, would students use lockers to put away something when they went to the bathroom for a few minutes? It’s a big hassle,” Seiden says.
Another option is to hire student patrollers to work on the upper floors, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. Other ideas include implementing a key-card system to allow access to the library after 10 PM.
For now, the best students can do is to take preventive measures by being more careful with their belongings. Redgrave advises students to not carry around valuables with them in the first place. If you do have valuables with you, keep them secure and in plain sight. This may be an issue in places like Essie Mae’s, where students must leave their backpacks outside before entering the serving area. Finally, Redgrave says that students have the option of buying security devices for laptops bookstore. “There are virtually no forcible thefts on this campus, less than one a year. Keeping your valuables secure goes a long way in keeping it safe,” he says.
In a similar vein, Seiden says the best thing the library can do is raise awareness. Student workers have been putting little notices next to places where students have left valuables behind reading “If I were a thief, your belongings would have been stolen by now.” Keith Blaha ’10, a student worker, said that he had given out 8 such notices on the first floor of McCabe in 10 minutes. But he’s working on being more careful with his own belongings.
Seiden says that students must take the necessary steps to be careful with their own things. “As long as we make McCabe an easy target, the thefts will keep on happening. If we make it difficult, they’re going to stop.”
Dark and difficult times lie ahead, but in the immortal words of Mad-Eye Moody, the Gazette beseeches you to implement “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”