Thieves now target gadgets

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Jenna Peters learned her lesson.

Two years ago, Peters, now 19, lost her cell phone. A week later, she found out it was actually stolen and the thief had been using it.

Now Southeast Missouri State University sophomore from St. Louis makes sure she always wears her phone on her.

"I never take off my phone," Peters said.

With national figures showing an increase of electronic thefts, Peters' precaution could be seen as a smart one.

Between 2003 and 2004, thefts of motor vehicle accessories increased 13 percent. From 2000 until 2004, the crime increased 29.7 percent, according to the FBI.

"It's one of those crimes that only takes a minimal effort to commit, done quickly and you're away," Cape Girardeau police spokesman Jason Selzer said.

Despite the national rise, though, Cape Girardeau has actually seen a dip in electronic thefts from motor vehicles.

From the beginning of the year to Aug. 31, there were 96 incidents of electronics stolen from vehicles. In the same period last year, there were 118, according to Selzer. Last year ended with 153 thefts, 2004 saw 265, which was up from 216 in 2003.

On the Southeast campus, the crime has also seen a drop in recent years.

Three years ago the campus did not have security cameras in some parking areas, which were routinely host to vehicle break-ins, Southeast Department of Public Safety director Doug Richards said. But with the placement of visible and hidden cameras, those numbers have decreased.

"We do not follow national trends," Richards said. "We always have had extremely low numbers."

In 2005, there were a total of 35 on-campus thefts of electronic devices from vehicles, rooms and buildings, Richards said. So far in 2006, there has been 22.

Richards attributed low theft numbers to security cameras, patrols and crime prevention.

For Cape Girardeau city, Selzer was not sure why there has been a decrease in electronic thefts, but speculated it could be because people don't leave them in their vehicles.

"People take them in because they're going to continue using them," he said, noting many electronic items used in vehicles are multipurpose.

Even though Cape Girardeau does not reflect the national statistics, Selzer was not surprised by the increase.

"With all the electronic devices out there, it's not surprising there's a black market for that," he said.

Selzer suggested that any electronic device that is left in the vehicle is placed under the seat or, even better, in the trunk.

"If it's out of sight, sometimes they'll pass it by," he said of thieves.

On campus, some residents were taking safeguards against possible thefts.

Sophomore Liz Grayem, who lives in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority house with Peters, made sure to purchase a desktop computer instead of a laptop to deter would-be thieves from an easy heist.

She was also prompted by a theft her current roommate experienced last year to take more, albeit simpler, precautions.

"I keep the doors locked all the time," Grayem said, admitting she did not use to lock her door as much.

Locking personal room doors is also helpful in stopping guy friends and occasional fraternity brothers from looting the girls' rooms as an only-occasionally funny prank, Peters said.

Chris Philpot, 19, is less concerned about someone taking items from his second-floor Cheney Hall room, counting on his fellow floormates.

"Someone's going to see it," the sophomore said. "We know everyone in our hallway."

But Richards warned that there has been an increase in thefts in rooms this year. Through August, there has been eight thefts from rooms. Last year there was a total of 12.

He noted that while technology has brought more and more gadgets, such as the iPod and Blackberry, technology has also helped with catching thieves.

"With the new technology, most of these gadgets are trackable," he said, particularly cell phones.

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