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September 13, 2000:

Princeton's the safest of the Ivies, yet theft abounds

by Andrew Shtulman '01

When APBnews.com/CAP Index published its 1999 campus safety report, it came as no surprise that Princeton was ranked the safest school in the Ivy League. Members of the university community saw the report as statistical confirmation of what they already knew intuitively. Unlike the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, or Yale (ranked the first, second, and third most dangerous Ivy League schools respectively), Princeton is ideally located in an upscale, non-urban environment - a setting that defies the very thought of criminal activity. Indeed, few students think twice about walking home in the middle of the night or leaving their door unlocked.

Given that, I want to report that I've had over $3,000 worth of belongings stolen since I've been at Princeton.

During my freshman year I had a coat stolen from the dining hall. During my junior year I had the cash stolen out of my wallet.

And now, a few weeks before the start of my senior year, I had a laptop stolen right off my desk. Is it just me? Do I have exceptionally bad luck?

It appears not. After learning of my loss, many Princeton friends consoled me with stories of their own losses, some totaling to as much as $6,000. Interested to learn the actual frequency of campus theft, not to mention the success rate for recovery of stolen goods, I logged on to Public Safety's homepage.

There, I discovered a police blotter detailing the most recent incidents of criminal activity: "theft of a bicycle," "theft of a cellular phone," "theft of pots and pans," "theft of three printers," "theft of a sawzall" (whatever that might be), and more - all within the space of a week!

A recent survey conducted by the Daily Princetonian found that 62% of students feel "very safe" at the university. Yet although I agree that crime is probably the last concern on most Princetonians' minds (Princeton students tend to use the campus blue-light phones to call friends, not the proctors, and they ride the safety shuttle to spare the effort of walking), I suspect those who took that survey interpreted "safe" as meaning "safe from violent crime," not "safe from crime in general," for 1 out of every 4 students who took the survey reported having been the victim of theft, and the average loss per victim was rather substantial: $220.

If indeed a quarter of the student body has been affected by theft, the incidence of larceny should be around 1,150 thefts per year. Public Safety, however, has only 369 accounts of larceny on record for 1999. Why is there such a discrepancy? Well for starters, Public Safety does not include crimes committed at the eating clubs in their statistics, and Prospect Avenue is perhaps the most frequent site of theft and vandalism. (Because my laptop was stolen from a room in Colonial Club, Public Safety would not take down the crime; I was told I needed to talk to the Princeton Borough police instead.) Secondly, many students do not report thefts. What's the point? As any Public Safety officer will tell you, once a jacket or bike has been removed from campus, it's pretty much gone for good.

So it turns out the university is not as invulnerable to crime as many people would like believe. Though the threat of being physically harmed on the Princeton campus is practically nonexistent, the threat of being financially harmed is actually quite high, and for good reason: Princeton is an ideal hunting ground for would-be felons. Where else can you find such an abundance of unlocked rooms, unguarded coats, and unattended bikes?

For my own part, I swear never again to leave my room unlocked, my coat unguarded, or my bike (if I had one) unattended. Even though I think I've experienced more than my share of bad luck, who knows what else might be stolen if I'm not careful. There's always my bed.