Schools fighting locker room larceny
By John K. Ryan and Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org January 3, 2011 11:08PM
TI-89 calculator $142
64GB iPod touch $399
Sources: store.apple.com; walmart.com
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Hundreds if not thousands of fancy phones, iPods and other high-priced handhelds likely landed in the hands of teenagers across the Southland on Christmas morning.
That means open season has arrived for electronics thieves in schools throughout the Southland. Some students returned to classes Monday after winter break and others will next Monday. Some probably plan to bring their new gadgets along. But school officials have some advice for those students: To reduce the risk of having those valuables stolen, leave them home.
The looting of lockers and other thefts at schools have become commonplace. Such incidents often are handled internally, which makes the problem difficult to quantify, but students who have fallen victim, often to the deeds of their classmates, acknowledge their losses.
“I’m on my third iPod. My first one was stolen at school in my locker. My locker partner’s cell phone got stolen, too,” said Rich Central senior Kristina Collie, who is on the girls basketball team. “I don’t even bring an iPod to school anymore. I do bring my cell phone, but now I keep it on me, in my pocket.”
Shaneka Boyd, of Rich South, also has been a victim of theft.
“Three weeks ago when I was at practice, I had to lock my stuff up. I guess somebody got my locker combination and they stole it while I was at practice,” she said. “They got my whole purse, my phone, my credit card.”
And it wasn’t the first time.
“The first time my phone got stolen while I was at practice,” she said. “It was in the gym room charging, and I guess a whole bunch of people came in and one of them stole it.”
Sandburg junior basketball player Joanna Curtis had her Blackberry stolen from her locker a couple of years ago and now keeps any electronics she brings to school with her. But she said she hears a lot about stolen electronic equipment.
“Especially (from) gym lockers. We get iPods stolen. Like when you’re out in the (gym) and somebody goes in there and grabs it,” she said.
At Lincoln-Way East, there’s an underground market for stolen $100 calculators, according to some parents in the district.
At Stagg, sophomore Alex Minkina said she had an expensive bag stolen.
“When we’re in the theater, people will put their bags on the ground, and other kids will go under the seats, open up their bags and take out stuff, and then put the bags back,” she said.
Locker larceny on a large scale
With so many students stashing high-priced, high-tech gadgets in their bookbags only to have them stolen, some schools have hired extra security and use surveillance cameras to help deter theft.
But those resources aren’t always an option — and they don’t always work.
In a case that’s not typical in scale but underscores the value of items students bring to school, two Flossmoor teenagers will be in court Thursday on felony theft charges.
On Sept. 23, students returning to the boys locker room after a gym class at Homewood-Flossmoor High School were shocked at what they saw: The combination locks on all 50 lockers had been snapped off with bolt-cutters by two students who then bolted with a backpack full of locker loot, including cell phones, iPods, wallets and cash.
Three students chased the two suspects. They managed to get away, but not for long.
Jalen Littrice, 17, of 3707 Ballantrae Way, and David Caradine, 18, of 1415 Kinross St., quickly were identified thanks to cameras outside the locker room, according to police, and police found them at Littrice’s house a short time later.
“Their parents brought all the property to the police station later that day. There were 33 victims among the 50 lockers they broke open,” Flossmoor Deputy Police Chief Mike Pulec said.
Littrice and Caradine each was charged with nine counts of felony theft because the items in nine lockers were worth at least $300. They are due in court Thursday at the Markham courthouse.
Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 Supt. Von Mansfield said the best solution to prevent such thefts is to convince students not to bring electronic items to school. H-F has security officers who at times patrol the locker rooms, but for privacy reasons, cameras can’t be placed in the locker rooms.
Oak Lawn Community High School Assistant Principal Joe McCurdy said students are reminded to leave valuable items at home via newsletters and school announcements and at parent meetings. He said locker rooms at Oak Lawn are locked during gym classes, a practice in effect since a series of thefts at the school a couple of years ago.
“We beefed up some of our security measures after that happened,” he said.
When a theft that can be handled internally does take place, the punishment depends on the circumstances, McCurdy said.
“In general, it’s an out-of-school suspension. If it’s an outright theft of a cell phone, it can be anywhere from one to 10 days,” he said.
Community High School District 218 spokesman Bob McParland said the district has up to 24 full-time security officers spread between Richards, Shepard, Eisenhower and the district’s alternative school. Several are former police officers, and each building also has a police liaison officer from a local police department.
“We also monitor hallways, cafeteria, gym and the grounds with video cameras,” McParland said.
Stealing or attempting to steal school property or another person’s personal property at a school in District 218 not only is grounds for suspension, but restitution is required for reinstatement. If the crime is egregious enough, theft or possession of stolen property may be grounds for expulsion.
But some students do realize the best preventive measures are to leave items home or stay alert.
“A lot of girls are kind of like lazy with locking up their stuff. They don’t, thinking that nothing bad is going to happen,” Stagg senior Andrea Beric said. “You’re not as careful as you should be. But that’s not an excuse for other people to steal anything.”
But since theft is widespread, Hillcrest dean of students Earnest Sutton wonders why kids put their stuff at risk.
“I don’t understand why parents buy such expensive phones and iPods for kids when they’re going to bring them to school,” he said. “I mean, kids lose notebooks. They don’t have the attention span.”
Students argue that cell phones, especially, are must-haves. Sutton hears the pleas when he confiscates one because a students used it during school hours.
“I’ve got kids who tell me they can’t live without it,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, let’s just see. Give it to me. If you’re not living tomorrow, my fault.’ ”