Campus Theft Increases Due to Jop Losses

SMC has found itself plagued by an alarming increase of crime this spring. Bicycles are being stolen, cars are being burglarized, parolees designated "armed and dangerous" are showing up on campus. There was even a sexual assault in the library. "I felt safe, but then I heard about the sexual assault. It's shattered my view of the campus," said Ana Boyadzhyan, an English major. "They need more security."

According to a police bulletin released on April 9, 2009, The Santa Monica College Police Department (SMCPD) has taken reports of 16 bicycle thefts from the main campus.

All of the bicycles that have been reported stolen were secured using locks of various types. Unknown suspect(s) used cutting tools to break the locks and left the area without detection, according to the bulletin.

The following week the SMCPD issued yet another bulletin stating there had been 11 vehicles burglarized from March 11 to April 9, 2009.

"The majority of our vehicle burglaries have been in the structures. They are taking ipods, phones, cameras, purses and anything else of value left in the open. Some of the (victim's) vehicles are left unlocked and others have had windows broken," said Sergeant Ray Bottenfield of the SMCPD. "We are taking measures to attempt to identify and apprehend the suspect(s)."

Two suspects were seen by a witness, running away from a burglary victim's vehicle on March 12. They were described as both being of Caucasian decent, between the ages of 19 and 23, standing between 5'7" and 5'10", wearing "hoodie" style sweatshirts, dark baggy pants and carrying backpacks. SMCPD had been actively investigating the lead and diligently searching for the suspects since the incident occurred, according to officials.

The break they were looking for may have come April 14 when Officers Cesar Becerra and Michael Champagne of the SMCPD saw a man smoking outside of the designated campus smoking areas. The officers made contact with the man who identified himself as Aaron Kidwell. They ran his information for safety purposes. Dispatch radioed back that Kidwell was wanted for a parole violation and should be considered "armed and dangerous."

Champagne and Becerra took Kidwell into custody. During the course of their search, they discovered numerous burglary tools. "He had bolt cutters, hand tools, flashlights and other instruments commonly used in bicycle thefts and thefts from vehicles," said Bottenfield. "He was also in possession of a knife and pepper spray which is illegal for a parolee to posses. Additionally, Kidwell had prescription drugs that did not belong to him, but it does not appear that he was attempting to distribute them."

Kidwell also was in possession of an altered bicycle that had been painted to conceal the serial numbers. "There is no match on the bicycle to any of those reported stolen. We feel he was here to commit crimes but don't know for sure. We are asking anyone that may have information connecting him to any of the crimes to come forward," Bottenfield said.

Increases in crime during a recession are not an uncommon thing and SMC is not alone in their new crime-related woes. In a panel discussion hosted by ABC news, experts said, "We are officially in a recession, after months of speculation and hundreds of thousands of layoffs. At the same time, many big cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Boston and Pittsburgh are reporting an increase in homicides this year, potentially signaling an end to the slide in violent crime."

It was only a matter of time before SMC started feeling the pinch of the economic based crime hike with California leading the nation in foreclosures and boasting the fifth highest unemployment rate, at a dismal 11.2 percent.

Other colleges have felt the sting as well. "We have been experiencing an increase in these crimes. Our contacts at other colleges also report increases in these statistical areas," Bottenfield said.

Rethinking policing strategies is going to be a tactic used by SMCPD to counter the increase in crime. "The department is developing a plan to lessen the number of thefts and burglaries. We have parking enforcement officers in the structures and our police officers also patrol the lots. We are spreading information to students and are working on some patrol related responses," Bottenfield said.

It may not be enough to restore some sense of security to current students. "Anyone can come on campus and no one checks. I had a guy asking me for money in the middle of the campus last year and he had no business here," said Jamie Golinda, a sociology major.

"I do feel safe but there should be more security on campus. That's the only way to stop the crime," said Marina Manriquez, a civil engineering major.

Others don't let the crime bother them. "I feel safe. SMC is a great learning environment," said Anthony Williams, an undecided major.

The SMCPD asks students to help prevent these crimes by being vigilant, reporting any crimes that occur and to utilize a buddy system if you are going to be on or around a part of campus that a student can be isolated.

They also offer these tips in regard to keeping your bicycles and vehicles from being a target:

1. Do not leave your bicycles or vehicles unlocked while unattended.

2. Do not secure your bicycle anywhere on campus unless it is a designated bicycle area.

3. Register your bike with the National Bike Registry.

4. Refrain from bringing and displaying valuable items in your car.