Two library thefts spark safety debate

The main library, a central study location on campus, was recently the site where two backpacks—and all of their contents—were stolen within the span of a week. Courtesy of mebrett via Flickr

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, Diego Betancourt ’21 returned from the bathroom to his seat in the library and found that his backpack had been stolen. Footage displayed the culprit: a man blending in as a college student, but little other information could be gathered regarding his identity. Betancourt reported the incident to Campus Safety and Security and contacted members of the College administration. Moving past ineffective formal action, the incident sparked conversation regarding theft on campus.

The next week, Emily Potts ’22 was robbed while working in the basement of the library, a central study location that she had not used much before this semester. Potts recalled working on her biology lab report due the next day on her laptop in one of the cubicles on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 3:45 p.m.

She noticed two men traipsing around but assumed they were students. About an hour later, when her laptop died, she moved to a different set of cubicles equipped with computers. While she was moving, she placed the laptop in a bag for safekeeping.

When asked about how she first came into contact with the thieves, Potts narrated: “Less than 10 minutes later, one of the two men, who honestly did not look not that much older than we are, came up to me and asked for directions to the bathroom. He told me that him and his friend got lost, and I assumed one was a prospective student. I was still in my seat and tried to gesture to its location.” The man thanked her and walked away, only to feign confusion and say he couldn’t find the bathroom. “He asked if I minded helping him, which I honestly didn’t. I got up and pointed where to turn down the hallway. The man made small talk with me, and when I walked back I immediately noticed what had happened. I started running upstairs, through the lobby, to the front door. I looked out and realized no one was there.” Footage from campus police would later confirm that one of the men, both of whom are not connected to Vassar, was complicit in the previous week’s theft as well.

Immediately following the incident, the library front desk called campus security. Eventually, an officer came to help Potts finalize a report of the incident. “Apparently, one of the men walked out carrying my bag as his own, they had this much on camera. The other remarked to the front desk as he left about how the bathroom was difficult to find. I was shaking, almost crying. My dog had just died that morning.” Although Potts could not give an exact time, she estimated that a member of the Poughkeepsie Police Department arrived to finalize a report roughly two hours after the theft.

Following in suit with Betancourt’s actions, Potts contacted the administration and noted that President Bradley responded with what Potts described as care and concern over what happened. The next day, Potts and President Bradley met with Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana and Safety and Security Director Arlene Sabo.

Although the two recent victims serve as a rare example of specific individuals targeting several students within such a short span of time, they are by no means the only students to experience robbery at Vassar. Dozens of stories float around campus each year regarding robberies of laptops and books. Lucy Brewster ’22 recounted how after dinner while doing work in the Deece, her charger was randomly taken when she stepped away.

Another item at risk of theft are bicycles, with certain motivated individuals even going to lengths such as cutting through locks. Eric Murphy ’22 found the remnants of a broken locks when his bike was one of several taken from the Noyes basement: “It happened over winter break. I left it locked to the bike rack in Noyes’ basement instead of my dorm because students stay in the rooms during that time. I didn’t bring it home with me because I didn’t have room in my car, and I thought it would be safe locked to the bike rack…the worst part is that you need an ID to get into Noyes. It’s a bunch of fucking bullshit.”

Potts contends that her main frustration related to the lack of notification that the first student’s possessions had been stolen the previous week: “I am so stressed and I normally keep my stuff with me all the time, but now these fears are reaching a peak!” She described the lack of timely information as frustrating and disappointing, elaborating, “Personally, if I had gotten an email the earlier week, I either would not have gone to the library or been more cautious.” Murphy stated that “I reported it to campus Safety and Security and [they] looked at where my bike had been and they made a report, but it didn’t bring my bike back.”

Sabo sent out an email on Oct. 11, titled “[Students] Crime Alert,” alerting students of the thefts, providing information about “two individuals who…created a ruse to distract the owner of the laptop.” These students lost not only valuables, but also a larger sense of security while at Vassar. Still, on a campus considered community-oriented and supportive, students can take some comfort in the fact that there are resources available to help them after the fact. There are limits to what campus Safety and Security can do to create sentiments reflective of the department’s namesake. Ultimately, Vassar students carry on with daily life, with or without their laptop.

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