Library theft takes new shape, targets sleeping students

Students crowd in front of the Santa Monica College library before it opens, rush to desks to study and do homework, and occasionally take a nap. But in the flurry of it all, they are caught by thieving opportunists.

Although laptops, smartphones and textbooks have been targeted and stolen by thieves at the same rate as in previous semesters, methods of theft have become surprisingly direct, according to the SMC police department.

"Theft is the biggest issue at the college," Sgt. Jere Romano said. "The library is no different than other areas of the college."

Romano estimated that out of the 900 reports the police department receives each year, 300 are theft cases.

In the last week alone, five thefts have occurred in the SMC library. Some students leaving their items unattended have become victims of theft.

However, Mona Martin, dean of the library, explained that the long-standing issue of theft has been exacerbated by costly technologies in her 20-plus-year tenure so far.

“When I started working here, we did not have laptops being stolen because we didn’t have laptops,” Martin said. "So the items being stolen now are more expensive."

SMCPD cadets patrol the library often, especially in the aftermath of the shooting that took place there in June, and they are instructed to guard any unattended items they see.

"A lot of people, for some reason, appear to be very naive," Romano said. "I just think they're very trusting. They'll walk off and look for a book."

Romano said that some students will charge their cellphones on the public outlets around campus and come back after an hour to find them missing.

Items that are lost or stolen are reported to the library staff, who immediately notify the campus police.

"I don't think [theft is] increasing; I think year over year we're pretty much stable," Romano said.

About half of the thefts that occur on campus are committed by non-students, while the other half are by current SMC students, he said.

Romano said that thieves work in cycles, and may hit University of California, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles College, other colleges in the area, and SMC. The SMCPD keeps close contact with other colleges to look for these trends in theft.

SMC student Erik Galeana argued that students should take some personal responsibility.

“People just get too comfortable and think that because it’s a school it’s supposed to be safe, but it’s not the school’s job to protect you,” he said.

Thieves have targeted students either sleeping or studying, and in several cases have stolen Apple Macbooks, iPads and iPhones right under the students sleeping on top of their gear.

But Romano assured that SMC is not dangerous.

"People don't need to be paranoid," Romano said. "This is a safe campus."