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THE SAFETY ZONE | Spotlight: Safety of the College

Outlining College Crime Prevention 101

September 11, 2000|Jerry Hicks

Like the rest of Orange County, most local colleges have experienced a decline in crime over the last few years. But campus safety experts say college crimes could be cut in half if students would stay alert, and be smart about not leaving themselves vulnerable.

"We call it 'crimes of opportunity,' " said Orange Coast College Police Chief John Farmer. "A woman student leaves her purse by her books in the library and goes upstairs to look up something. She comes back down, her billfold is missing. Someone leaves his bicycle unattended; on a campus this size, it could be gone in no time."

While college crime isn't rampant, it remains pervasive--ranging from the parking lot to the classroom to the library and snack shops. Crimes range from petty thefts to book-stealing to stalking.

Police said many of these crimes occur because students aren't as aware of their surroundings as they should be. Several departments are now taking steps to cut crime through, what else, but education.

Campuses Step Up Enforcement

At UC Irvine, for example, officials got so annoyed at the wide range of crimes on campus that this year they've created a new fleet of community service officers to bolster their safety team. It's made up of paid students who spend time lecturing to other students at gatherings about ways to reduce crime risks.

At Cal State Fullerton, the police this semester have added a full-time safety education officer. He will target students who may be the most vulnerable to crime, such as young women, or seniors returning to school under a reentry program.

Chapman University Police Chief Milt Galbraith says the victims are usually the newer students. "They're used to depending on their parents to take care of them. They're away from home for the first time, and not used to thinking on their own about issues like personal safety."

Campus police are constantly trying to find ways to get students to confide in them more, and to make themselves more readily available to students. At Orange Coast College, for example, the officers ride in golf carts to help them get to an emergency situation quicker. For the same purpose, Cypress College not long ago started bicycle patrols.

But the police warn that they simply can't stop all situations.

At Saddleback College, for example, Chief Harry Parmer points out that it's a 210-acre campus, with 23,000 students and thousands of staff and faculty. Unlike most community college campuses, its officers are armed. It's like a small city, he said, which means it's susceptible to crime.

What to Guard Against

Here's a look at the range of campus crimes students need to be more alert about:

* Solicitors. Every campus I called placed scam artists at the top of their crime list.

They range from people selling magazine subscriptions (who want cash up front for the first issues) to credit card fraud.

"They'll go from door to door in the dorms finding someone who will fall for their line," Galbraith said. "It's hard to stop them because we're such a wide open campus. This place is almost like Las Vegas until 10 p.m."

* Bicycle theft. This is also high on the crime list by most campus police. And it doesn't matter if you have a bicycle lock, said Capt. Alvin Brown of the UCI campus police. "You buy the standard cable-wire lock, that's almost like not having any lock at all for some of these crooks. They carry small clamps in their pocket and nobody even knows what they're up to until it's too late."

Brown recommends the heavy-duty U-shaped locks, which are more difficult to cut without calling attention to what you're up to.

* Auto thefts, and auto-parts thefts. You can try to park in well-lighted areas, but most of these thefts are taking place while you're asleep. The best defense seems to be to just make sure you carry good insurance.

* Textbook thefts. It's on every campus, another of those "crimes of opportunity" when you leave a book behind by accident at a lunch counter or in the library. It's an expensive loss for students, yet some students simply have a hard time believing that, yes, there are people who will steal your books to make a profit.

The problem with catching these thieves, the police say, is that they usually steal from one campus and then sell the books at another, during special end-of-semester buy-back days by the college bookstores.

* Computer parts theft. Almost every campus I surveyed said computer part thefts were down, essentially because the parts have gotten cheaper to buy so they're no longer such a hot commodity. But reduction in these thefts doesn't mean they're stamped out. Locking away equipment and storing it properly is essential, police say.

* Confrontational crimes. Though these are few in number, each campus has to worry about students, staff and faculty being robbed as they attempt to leave campus.

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