A market for thieves: Tech theft finds easy targets

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Fikrea Tesema

One of the most common areas for theft at Decatur is in the school cafeteria. “Students unknowingly leave phones and ipods on the table unprotected,” Assistant Principal Arlethea Williams said. “I have found [phones] laying around in the cafeteria many more times than I would like.”

Senior Fatma Alnedawi hears Colonel Johnny Richards calling out students’ names. It is time for their daily drills. Alnedawi zips her purse, puts it down on the desk and heads outside. After the drills, she comes back into the school to see the classroom door open. She walks in and sees her purse on the desk. It’s open.

She feels a knot in her stomach. Swallowing hard, she goes to her bag and looks inside. Exactly what she feared has happened – her iPod is gone with no one in sight.

Sadly, Alnedawi is not the only student at Decatur who has been a victim of theft. Every year, students from every grade report their stolen possessions to the administrators. Although money and purses are occasionally taken, the main targets are iPods and cellphones.

The prevalence of theft has students wondering how to keep their stuff safe. “I don’t want to have to worry about my phone and iPod everytime I come into the school,” Alnedawi said.

The fact that technology has become more advanced is affecting the stealing going on at Decatur. “Since there is a lot more technology available now, the students are becoming easier targets,” Assistant Principal Arlethia Williams said.

Williams deals with the search and punishment surrounding the thefts reported by underclassmen. “When coming to Decatur, I see that the students are more trusting, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Williams said, “but at the same time we need for them to be aware of their stuff and surroundings.”

Sophomore Caroline Miller had her purse taken at the beginning of her freshman year during colorguard practice. The incident changed Miller’s impression of Decatur. “I used to think that everyone was cool with each other at the high school,” Miller said, “but now I see some people aren’t so nice.”

Theft has not only affected Decatur students. Schools that come to play sports are also aware of this issue. Last spring, Berkmar’s girls soccer team had their iPods and cellphones stolen out of their locker rooms while playing a game at Decatur. “I was incredibly disappointed with the incident,” Stephen Gathany, Decatur’s varsity girls soccer coach, said.

The incident with Berkmar did not only affect the soccer teams. “To have someone as a guest to our school and then to take their possessions was very saddening,” Williams said. “[Our] reputation was tainted by what happened, and it can’t really be taken back.”

In the last two years, sophomore Caroline Miller has had her possessions stolen twice.  Among those possessions were two iPods, a phone, perfume, a  purse, and pocket money.  The total cost of these items was $647.
In the last two years, sophomore Caroline Miller has had her possessions stolen twice. Among those possessions were two iPods, a phone, perfume, a
purse, and pocket money. The total cost of these items was $647.

Staff and police worked with Berkmar coaches to find the players’ possessions. “We were very pleased with the fact that the school and police responded so quickly,” Jennifer Crawford, head Berkmar varsitygirls coach, said. “Things like this can happen to anyone.”

Luckily, the thieves were found, and according to Crawford, the Berkmar girls got almost all of their items back.

Although a sad event, some good came out of the incident. “I know that the people who stole the stuff have changed for the better,” Gathany said. “I don’t believe that they would do anything like this ever again.”

Though the thieves are not found each time something is stolen, Miller believes there is a certain group who is responsible for the majority of the missing items. “People at school know who the main thieves are,” Miller said. “They just chose not to tell.”

Miller has now not only become suspicious of others at school, but, of her friends as well. “The sad thing is I feel that some of my friends know who took my stuff, they just won’t say,” Miller said.

The pressure to stay quiet is apparent within the school. “Some students are often hesitant about coming forward if they know anything because they don’t want to tell on their peers,” Williams said.

Miller feels that certain people are especially targeted. “I think [the thieves] go after people who aren’t well-known or well-liked,” Miller said. “If the people aren’t well-liked then no one really cares about what happened and no one really helps.”

After the phones and iPods are stolen, there is a high chance the thief has already sold the item. “We always try as hard as we can,” Williams said, “but there is a probability that their items cannot be recovered.”

According to the administration, there are many reasons students steal, but the main ones are envy and need of money. “When students see their peers with new phones and ipods they want to have one also,” Williams said. “But this in no way is an excuse for the behavior.”

With technological advances like detectors built in the phones and iPods, the thieves are more anxious to keep the items they have stolen. “I know a guy who got caught because of a tracker inthe phone he stole,” senior and accused thief Jonathan* said.

Instead of keeping the items, Miller believes that the primary motivation to steal is to sell them for drugs. “I think that students sell the phones and iPods to buy weed from others living in Decatur,” she said.

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Jonathan agrees with Miller. “The kids don’t keep the things they steal,” he said. “They flip it and sell for weed or they sell it for money in order to buy weed.”

According to Jonathan, there is not a grade of students that are targeted. “It’s easy to steal from anyone here because the students at the school still leave their stuff everywhere,” he said.

To minimize theft, however, the administration has surveillance in the school at all times. “There is a common misconception that the cameras don’t work,” Williams said, “but that is how we have caught some of the students stealing.”

Although the administration can not disclose exactly where the cameras are in the school, “you can

look up and see if there is a camera,” Williams said.

While the cameras do sometimes help, there are setbacks. Although caught on camera going to the JROTC room, the person that is believed to have stolen Alnedawi’s iPod has not been charged. “[The administration] says they don’t have enough evidence because they didn’t see him physically taking my iPod,” Alnedawi said.

Alnedawi has learned to be more cautious since her iPod was stolen. “Now, when I go anywhere, I make sure the classroom door is closed before I leave my stuff,” she said.

Even though Miller has given up on finding her lost items, Alnedawi still has hope. “I still go to the office and check,” she said. “I don’t know if I will get [my iPod] back, but maybe I will get lucky.”

After these recent incidents students at Decatur have learned a valuable lesson. “Now I keep my purse with me at all times,” Miller said. “It’s kind of sad, but I see that I can’t trust people as much as I want.”

*source requested anonymity