The Public Safety department and the University Shop are encouraging students to use caution when shopping in the campus bookstore after a series of 22 wallet thefts which began in August 2004.
The thefts began during the book rush at the start of the 2004-2005 academic year. Since there is rarely more than one wallet stolen per year from the bookstore, manager Frank Henninger was surprised by two thefts within a week. After several students informed the bookstore of these initial thefts, Public Safety officers were brought in to regulate the busy book-buyback session of late August.
Still, the beginning of the spring semester also brought a barrage of thefts, and five students reported their wallets stolen.
Public Safety director Jeff Horton said the department saw its chance to catch the thief. “We knew there was going to be an opportunity to catch the student during the January book rush,” he said.
As a result, Public Safety set up a decoy backpack, and, under surveillance video, the perpetrator attempted to take a wallet from inside the Public Safety bag. The student was brought in for questioning and admitted to stealing the other missing wallets. After further investigation, officers discovered the 22 wallets inside a safe in his campus dorm room. The perpetrator only took and spent cash, leaving credit cards untouched.
Radnor police were not brought in to aid in the investigation, and the matter remained at the Student and Judicial Affairs level. “We just followed this course [of the investigation] ourselves and we were able to handle it,” Horton says.
Additionally, Horton noted it would be hard to file police charges because many of the wallets were not reported as stolen.
Students whose wallets were stolen received an e-mail from Joanna Aversa of Public Safety on Jan. 20 in an attempt to get them to pick up their wallets as well as receive compensation for the cash taken.
“One victim had $300 in her wallet,” Horton said. “We have confidence we’ll be able to give them restitution.”
Currently, the perpetrator’s father and mother are assisting Public Safety in this quest to refund victims.
“We still have some people’s wallets,” says Horton, as only 10 people filed a formal report at the time of their individual theft. The other 12 people apparently were not aware that the bookstore was the site of their wallet loss and have not filed reports.
Senior Stephanie Doyle, whose wallet was stolen in October of last semester, initially thought it was simply lost.
She only had minimal cash in her wallet, but she said, “It ended up being a real issue because I had to stop my checks and replace my cards. It was a problem for a couple weeks, and I had to spend a lot of money getting a new license, medical card, and bank cards.”
She added, “It makes me upset that someone goes through people’s things and takes wallets like it’s a sport.”
Although the perpetrator has been found and no longer attends the University, Henninger encourages students to shop safely by taking valuables with them or placing them in a free locker provided at the entrance of the store.
“It’s nice to know students think they are safe at Villanova, but there is still some theft here,” Henninger said. “Be careful.”
Horton and Henniger both encourage placing valuables in the lockers in the front of the bookstore as an alternative. They cost a quarter, but this money is returned at the end of use.
Horton also encourages students to write the number of their freshman orientation keychain inside their school books in case of potential theft.
“Your name would be on a wallet, but inside a textbook it’s not as easy,” says Horton.
With this number, Public Safety is able to track students’ information through a database. If stolen textbooks are reported to the University Shop immediately, the store can flag those titles on its system to alert clerks during buy-back time.
To increase awareness of the wallet thefts, Henninger magnified a portion of another warning sign outside the bookstore that advises patrons not “to leave laptops, cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, wallets, purses, or any other valuable items in your bags or backpacks when using our bookdrop cubicles.” These signs were placed them outside the bag cubicles.
A longer version of the sign has hung on the entrance doors of the bookstore for the past six years.
“We started those when the [C & F] laptop initiative began,” says Henninger.