Campus hit by rash of thefts
12 locker break-ins reported since start of new year
Bryan Weismiller & Rachael Frey
Tina Amini lost more than a bit of holiday weight when she hit the gym in early January.
Amini, a second-year student at Mount Royal University, said she noticed something odd after wrapping up her workout on Jan. 11. She returned to the campus’ I-Wing around 4:30 p.m. to find her locker door hanging open.
It wasn’t instantly obvious what happened, she said. However, outrage swept over her as she took in the scene and realized what was going on.
Amini had been robbed.
“I went to the gym one time because I ate a little too much over Christmas,” Amini said. “I come back and all my stuff is gone.”
The items stolen from locker included a BlackBerry Bold, partially broken gold ring, a textbook and cash. Also included was a brand-new Samsung Galaxy Tab, which she had owned for just over 24 hours.
Already frustrated and under pressure because of school, work and bills, she said she’s emotionally distraught from having her belongings taken.
“You finally get something and then it’s all gone,” said Amini, who gave a tearful account. “You struggle. You struggle so hard, you just get through exams and get a little reward. Then it’s gone. It sucks.”
Amini expressed displeasure with how the situation was handled by campus security and the parking and transportation office.
Officials from security services and parking and transportation say they’ve handled all locker theft complaints in a professional manner.
Amini is not the only one who has been stung by thieves at Mount Royal. Several other locker break-ins have been reported to campus security.
Terrance Zeniuk, head of security services at MRU, confirmed that his department has seen a spree of locker break-ins since November 2011.
He stressed that the number of lockers broken into is not an accurate reflection of the number of incidents, since several lockers are opened during each incident.
Since the beginning of 2012, Zeniuk said there have been as many as five separate locker theft incidents, with a total of 12 lockers broken into.
“For me, one is too many,” Zeniuk said. “When someone’s locker is broken into and their personal items are taken there’s some trauma for them that goes along with that. It saddens me that it takes place.”
Jake Ritchie, a second-year aviation student, went for a swim at the recreation centre on Jan. 23. When he returned to his gym locker at 4:30 p.m. the lock was gone and so was his 64GB iPhone 4S. Someone had rifled through the rest of his belongings, including his wallet, but didn’t take anything else.
“I think I was one of five other people on that day, in that same time frame,” Ritchie said. He reported the theft to both security and the police, but said he doesn’t think it is a priority for them.
“Since it’s under $2,000 it’s considered a petty crime, so it’s not really going to get their attention,” he said.
It’s not just lockers, either. First-year public relations student Ariel Downey accidentally left an expensive Prada wallet on a desk in the Centre for Communication Studies, and when she returned a few minutes later it was gone.
Downey said she searched the area from top to bottom and reported the theft to campus security and the police, but the wallet has not been turned in.
According to numbers from the parking and transportation department, which also handles school lockers, as many as 17 break-ins have occurred since September 2011. Though, Stefan Durston, department manager, pointed out campus security is responsible for keeping a more accurate count.
This is not the first year Mount Royal has experienced multiple locker break-ins. The exact numbers have proven difficult to pin down because of ambiguity as to what constitutes a break-in, statistical discrepancies and the fact that some thefts are not reported to security at all.
Durston said the volume of incidents doesn’t stand out compared to previous years. But, it’s the manner in which they’re being committed that’s more unusual.
“This one seems to be the same person doing all the events,” Durston said. “That’s more concerning for us. They’re all the same, so it’s very interesting to say the least.”
Previous cases have shown to be crimes of opportunity where someone forgot to lock up their stuff, he added. That doesn’t appear to be the case with the recent locker thefts.
Zeniuk confirmed that the locker burglaries show a consistent pattern. In recent cases, the metal piece that holds the lock, known as a hasp, has been cut rather than the lock itself.
The newly hired head of security said one person may be responsible for all the thefts, but added he’s unwilling to discount the chance of more being involved.
Watch out for each other
Campus security reports two or more lockers in the same area have been hit at once. The thefts seem to occur in isolated areas of the school.
Zeniuk declined to be more specific, saying the investigation is ongoing.
He hinted that the incidences are happening in MRU’s many nooks and crannies, which makes it harder to catch crime in action. It’s a lot of turf to defend with nearly 2,200 lockers on campus.
“In my travels, I’ve never seen a university with this many lockers,” said Zeniuk, who previously worked as a hostage negotiator with the RCMP and defended visiting dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth.
Security cameras aren’t as useful as many think, he added. They’re good for isolating specific areas at certain times, but don’t work well with high volumes of traffic.
Reporting incidents quickly is more useful for security, he said, as the odds of catching thieves decrease exponentially with every hour passed following the crime.
Zeniuk said security has the primary responsibility of tracking down the offender, but he’s counting on students, staff and faculty to report anything that looks suspicious.
“Really monitor your community of lockers in terms of ‘I know who my neighbours are and I know who they aren’t,’” he said.
Zeniuk said anyone can leave a confidential voicemail at security by calling 403-440-6899. He also said he wants students to know security services are committed to solving the problem.
“It’s not being taken lightly,” he said. “One of the biggest priorities of security service right now is to solve the locker thefts.