A look inside Union’s theft scene: Has it become an issue?

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By Emily Brower

In June of 1971, Union was at the forefront of what the Times Union dubbed the “Capital Region’s greatest art heist.” On a graduation day in June, a thief robbed Union’s library of a volume of one of the rarest books in America, John James Audobon’s “Birds of America.” In December of 2011, “Birds of America” was the most expensive book ever sold at $11.5 million. The case of Union’s stolen volume has forever remained a mystery, earning the college a place in the Capital Region’s history.

Where does the scene of a notorious theft now stand? Forty-two years later, Union has yet to experience an instance of theft on par with the legendary Audobon heist.

Nevertheless, Union presently has its fair share of theft, albeit minute in comparison to the Audobon incident. Union’s current status pertaining to theft ranges from the theft of personal items to instances of stolen goods from places like Dining Services, the book store and outside vendors, such as the Bella U jewelry vendor, that sell their merchandise in Reamer.

“There are more thefts this year than last year at this time,” Campus Safety Director Christopher Hayen said. He continued, however, to say that if the type of theft is broken down to “the electronics it’s pretty much the same, the backpacks it’s pretty much the same, the textbooks it’s pretty much the same” as past years. This year, the random thefts of property such as the school’s portraits and artwork have increased; “Shenanigans,” as Hayen called them.

Aside from alcohol violations, theft is the number one offense committed by students on campus, according to Hayen.

Trish Giova Jenkins, owner of Bella U, has been selling her jewelry and accessories in the Reamer Campus Center for about nine years. Jenkins also sells her goods at other small liberal arts colleges similar to Union, but noted that she experiences theft “less so” at other colleges than she has at Union.

Jenkins personally crafts some of her jewelry in addition to traveling around the world to places like Thailand, Nepal and Mexico to attain mostly handmade jewelry that she sells in the states.

For Jenkins, the theft that she has experienced at Union is largely personal. “It’s hard not to take it personal. They don’t realize that they’re stealing from a small, woman-owned business. Not that stealing from anybody is okay, but for me, it’s definitely personal,” she said.

Jenkins was specifically confronted with theft last year at Union when two upperclassmen pulled her aside and let her know that somebody was stealing something from one of her tables. Jenkins claims that she does personally witness theft at her tables when she sells in Reamer, but she maintains that such instances typically result from a small percentage of students and do not spoil the positive experiences she’s had at Union.

“I think that, by far, the majority of the students are honest. It’s just something that goes along with the type of business I have,” Jenkins explains.

Director of Dining Services David Gaul expressed a similar sentiment with the belief that theft in areas within Dining Services is a normal occurrence that essentially comes with the nature of the business.

“It’s par for business. We haven’t seen anything that’s out of the ordinary that separates us from any other business locally, your traditional restaurants, so on so forth,” he stated.

However, Gaul points out that, “we have had some issues with customers who have tried to circumvent the system and have either taken something or eaten something in line and not paid for it when cashing out.”

The most commonly stolen items, according to Gaul, are bottled drinks, which can be concealed in backpacks.

Debbie Salsbury, a Dining Services employee, remarked that theft is commonplace on a busy day in Dutch—“It’s an everyday occurrence when we are busy. I’ve seen people steal drinks, food from the salad bar, Red Bull and even pizza!”

It appears, then, that theft at Union is simply something that goes hand in hand with business. Though it does not seem to be a major issue, according to faculty members in the school, one student pointed out that Union’s cases of theft, particularly with student culprits, are disappointing to the community.

President of the class of 2014 Ankur Shah noted, “I think at a school like Union, where we just signed the honor code, it is just plain wrong that this happens.”

But there are some students doing their part to prevent theft. Schaffer Library’s Head of Access Services Robyn Reed recounted a story about a couple of students who reported a young man trying to put their friend’s laptop into his backpack. “We called Campus Safety and they came,” she said. This is the library’s protocol for serious theft. Items that are caught by the censored gate at the front doors are treated differently. “If it’s a book or article or something like that we will give that person, whether it’s a student or a community [member] the benefit of the doubt,” Reed said.

Treasurer and Secretary of the class of 2016, Seth Cohen, commented on the possible origins of theft at Union. “I think that, while many students at Union are not privileged, the stereotype of a wealthy student body has found a home at Union for a reason. While not all privileged people disrespect others’ property, I think that Jared Zeidman said it best, paraphrasing ‘It tends to be the more privileged students who rip down posters in the dorms, because the poorer students usually have a better sense for the amount of work that goes into the finished product,’” he said.

However, Cohen believes that Union’s campus and students do not “have a greater proclivity towards theft or mistreatment of property than the rest of the world.”

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