Police, security work to curb theft at campus facilities

CHAMPAIGN – U. of I. Police officers are working proactively with Campus Recreation staff to prevent theft at facilities like the Activities and Recreation Center in Champaign and Campus Recreation Center East in Urbana.

Theft is the most commonly reported crime on just about every college campus in the country, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is no exception. Publicly accessible areas – like outdoor fields, libraries and recreation centers – tend to be the most susceptible to theft, particularly if students and others are leaving valuables unattended.

During the fall semester in 2016, seven thefts were reported at the ARC, and six were reported through the first three months of the spring 2017 semester. Cellphones and wallets left unattended on the sidelines or in unlocked lockers were by far the most common items taken.

Based on investigators’ review of security camera footage, it is generally believed that the offenders in the majority of cases are not students and did not have legitimate access to the recreation facility.

That’s why U. of I. Police officers are working with security officers and Campus Recreation staff to be more watchful for people improperly accessing recreation facilities. Officers developed a plan to help student staff members at ARC better control access and for police to have a visible presence at the facility during peak hours.

“They made time during shift hours daily to have a presence at the entry control point and educate staff members on how to control access, identifying individuals as they attempted illegal entry, techniques used by groups to gain access, and professional steps they could use to maintain control without causing agitation,” said Sergeant Rick Bell.

By making it known to would-be thieves that the police and security were keeping a watchful eye, said Officer A.J. Martin, they might rethink their actions.

“The goal was to curb the thefts,” Martin said. “If we were able to make it more difficult for the people committing those thefts to get in, then hopefully we can reduce the thefts if not stop them.”

Campus Recreation has made changes, too. All guests without a valid i-card or visitor’s card are required to check in at Member Services where they will be entered into a membership database so their visits are more easily trackable.

Campus Rec has also worked with organizers of large events to provide a separate check-in and access point for event attendees.

Still, the best defense against theft is protecting your own property, Martin said. Theft is a crime of opportunity – it can happen anywhere, and anyone can decide to snatch an unattended item. Items should not be left unattended on the sideline of a court or playing field – make sure to lock items in a locker with a good lock or, even better, leave them at home.

And students should “take ownership” of ARC, CRCE and outdoor fields, Martin added. If students see something suspicious, they should say something to security or the police.

“A lot of times, people are passing IDs” to friends or acquaintances to give them illegitimate access, Martin said. He added that students should let someone know if they see that happening: “If people were passing I-Cards back, and you knew they were coming in to take your belongings, would you say something then?”