Not Always Lost: Theft at Dartmouth

by Nelly Mendoza-Mendoza | 4/12/16 5:08pm

Here at Dartmouth, most students don’t think twice about leaving their laptop out in the open when they take a coffee break or run to print something in the library. It seems unlikely that someone would come and steal anything, mostly because the vast majority of people in the library are students, and presumably, students trust one another ­— at least with valuable electronics.

Much of this is likely due to Hanover’s isolated location. As it follows, this relative safety from theft is not always the case at some other schools, especially those in more urban areas.

Jane Lee ’19 said that when she was at the University of Washington (which has a student population of almost 45,000 and is located in Seattle) she tried leaving her computer out for a few minutes. Her friend quickly warned her about theft on campus. Lee’s friend told her that even if she just went to the bathroom for a few minutes, her laptop could get stolen during that time and insisted she bring all her things with her wherever she went.

Lee commented that the situation is very different at Dartmouth, where she thinks there’s a much more relaxed and trusting atmosphere.“There’s a Baker-Berry library culture,” Lee said. “You can leave your stuff out and nothing gets stolen even if you wait a couple of days.”Safety and Security director Harry Kinne, who has been working for the college for 13 years, confirmed that the incidence of stolen electronics is relatively low compared to other objects. He also said when they are stolen, it is usually not by a Dartmouth student.

Kinne attributed the low incidence of crime to the small size of Hanover and the College.

It’s much more common to see bikes and jackets get stolen, Kinne said. Emma Hartswick ’17, who had her bike stolen twice in one term, confirmed this. She said that people will spontaneously take bikes and not return them, often out of carelessness. However, she said this doesn’t happen as frequently as popularly believed.

“It’s more common that a bike will disappear and then end up some place far away, just because someone was too lazy to walk,”

Hartswick said. “But, I think that doesn’t happen as often as people say it happens.”

Kinne agreed, based on his observations from recovering random abandoned bikes. He said often bikes are stolen and then dropped off with Safety and Security when people don’t know to whom they can return them.Kinne had a bit of a pessimistic view on what happens to unlocked bikes.“I would never leave my bike unlocked, because it will disappear,” Kinne said.

He also suggested registering bikes with Safety and Security in case they ever get “borrowed.” He said their recovery rates are good, since typically the bikes don’t actually leave campus. If the bike isn’t registered there’s much less the officers can do. Safety and Security will work with Hanover Police if they think there’s someone deliberately targeting bicycles.

When Hartswick’s bike was stolen the first time, she said it magically reappeared. The second time she had to contact Safety and Security, which was was able to track it down.

Hartswick said students need to be strategic in where they leave belongings. Kinne also echoed this sentiment, explaining that people should perhaps exercise more caution. He said that although it’s not common, he has seen students steal things from others’ rooms.“Many students leave their doors unlocked,” Kinne said. “There seems to exist trust among the student community.”

Kinne said that in these situations, the items taken are money, wallets, or an ID.

Hartswick said that generally, the thing she sees stolen most often at Dartmouth are those of little personal value. Things that are harder to replace are much less likely to be taken.

“Something like a laptop or a phone, people know that students use those for school work or for talking to their families, and that they have a lot of personal information on there,” Hartswick said.

Conversely, something like a bike might be easier to replace, she said, and have less individual meaning.

Once, Lee left all her rings in a music room. The next day she came back to see that someone had neatly stacked them up on the same table where she had left them. Ostensibly, people would have little reason to steal someone’s rings, and perhaps they also recognized the meaning to their owner.

However, during the first days of the fall term, Lee lost $300 from her wallet. She used to leave her wallet out at Foco and her dorm room door unlocked, and said it likely was stolen from one of those places. At the advice of her undergraduate advisor, she now locks her door.

Lee said that a few weeks later after this incident, blitzes went out to East Wheelock residents warning them about the theft of computers and other valuable items from unlocked rooms. Lee said laptops and someone’s Nintendo Wii gaming console had been stolen.

Frackets, or fraternity jackets, are easily the most stolen items on campus. Nowhere is the prevalence of fracket theft more visible than the desperate pleas posted on platforms like Facebook and Yik Yak.

Lee noticed the irony that people leave laptops out in the open for hours at a time but rarely bring expensive coats to fraternities.

People are frequently too embarrassed to return the coat to its rightful owner, or simply never take the time to track the owner down.

Nonetheless, frackets seem to be, ostensibly, one of the most “socially acceptable” items to steal here at Dartmouth.

Emily Levine ’19 said that although people recognize it’s wrong, people still often steal frackets out of necessity.

“I think people know that it’s bad, that it is not a very acceptable thing to do,” Levine said. “But it still happens.”

Lee attributed much of fracket theft to intoxication, which can perhaps engender confusion to whether or not a coat is actually your own. This can create a chain reaction in which people keep stealing coats so they don’t have to walk home in icy Hanover temperatures.

“I don’t think that [people] steal it for the sake of stealing it,” Lee said. “It’s more because they are very intoxicated and many frackets also look very similar.”

Kinne said that people sometimes drop off mistakenly grabbed frackets with Safety and Security. People often drop off phones and wallets with them as well. If at the end of the term the items haven’t been picked up, Kinne said the department donates them.

Overall, despite Hanover’s reputation as a safe and relatively theft-free place, Kinne recommended students to stay vigilant and cautious with their belongings.

And most importantly — buy an inexpensive fracket.

Jane Lee is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.