By Julie Pike, Free Press Staff
In the last month, there has been a significant rise in the number of thefts on the Portland campus. On Feb. 22, USM Public Safety issued a statement on their Facebook page informing the public that several thefts have occurred in lockers and in unattended offices.
In the first seven weeks of the spring semester, seven thefts have been reported so far. Six of them happened on the Portland campus and one in Gorham. This is compared to the 12 total thefts that occurred in the Fall semester, of which nine were in Gorham and three were in Portland.
The thefts this semester have primarily occurred in the Sullivan Gym and Woodbury Campus Center. Lieutenant Ronald Saindon from USM Public Safety stated that cash and wallets had been taken out of lockers in the gym, and purses or bags left unattended have been taken in Woodbury.
Saindon stated that USM police are actively looking into the thefts that have taken place. They have also asked the manager of the Sullivan Gym, Kevin Normand, to post signs throughout the gym to notify people that thefts have occurred and that extra measures to secure their valuables should be taken.
“This does two things. It makes the public aware of the thefts,” stated Saindon, “and it puts whoever is doing this on notice and shows them that we are taking this seriously.”
Saindon is also encouraging the community at USM to take extra caution with their valuables.
There are video surveillance cameras in place on both campuses. However, these cameras are not present in private spots, such as locker rooms, making that area more susceptible to thefts.
In response to the increase in thefts, some students are becoming more cautious of where they are leaving their personal items. Beatrice Downs, a senior tourism and hospitality major, explained a tactic she uses to keep her stuff safe.
“While I’m in Woodbury, if I ever need to leave to go to the bathroom or something, I will ask the person next to me if they can watch my stuff,” Downs stated. “Almost every time they say yes.”
Out of 50 students surveyed, 64 percent of them were aware of thefts happening on campus. The students were notified via a mass email sent to students, or they heard of the incidents through the Public Safety Facebook page.
Of those students surveyed, 70 percent of them drive to school and all of them reported that they kept their cars locked at school. However, 15 percent of those students admitted that they would sometimes leave valuables in plain sight in their cars.
Saindon suggests that people should store their valuables in the trunk of their car, instead of leaving them out on the front seat, to lessen the chance of a vehicular theft. He also suggests that, to combat the rise in thefts, members of the USM community need to practice keeping their valuables hidden and secure, regardless of where they may be on campus.
“A lot of these crimes are crimes of opportunity,” Saindon said. “If the opportunity is there and somebody isn’t watching their stuff while their laptop or purse is out in the open, people will take that chance to take it.”
Saindon also encouraged faculty and staff at USM to not leave their belongings unattended and to lock their offices when they leave.
When students were asked if they felt that their things were safe at USM, half of the students surveyed agreed. The other half claimed that they did not feel as if their personal items were safe at school anymore.
In response to students’ feedback, Saindon asks for students to take extra precautions and to notify USM police if they see someone acting suspiciously or oddly.
The biggest question with the rise in thefts is the reason why the last month has seen more than usual. Saindon offered insight into why more are happening.
“The Portland campus is much more of a public campus,” Saindon said. “There’s a lot more people in the public that can wander in and out of campus in the Portland area. It’s also that time of year that we see a rise in crimes of opportunity. We’re not immune to it any more than any other college campus.”
To ensure that student’s valuables remain safe and secure, students are encouraged to not leave their things unattended, lock their vehicles and lockers and keep any valuables secure and out of plain view in their cars.