Despite a 20-year downward trend in overall criminal wrongdoing on and off campus, the University reported an uptick in crime this past semester, particularly thefts, and has reminded students to be wary of their surroundings.
Following a national trend, iPhones have been the primary targets of New Haven’s thieves this fall. Between mid-August and early December, the Yale Police Department received reports of 77 larcenies that occurred on or near Yale’s campus, said Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner. Among these, 33 incidents involved thefts of bikes not properly locked and several others involved thefts of portable electronic devices, including laptops, iPhones and iPads.
Dubbed “Apple Picking,” the new phenomenon of iPhone thefts has been on the rise both in the city of New Haven and nationwide. Smartphone crime, which has hit an all-time high this year in major cities like New York City and Los Angeles, seems to have arrived in New Haven this semester, Lindner said. Both the YPD and the New Haven Police Department, she said, have received reports of incidents in which teenaged thieves, riding bicycles or walking in groups, quickly grab a cellphone right out of a victim’s hands.
“These phones can be sold for cash, so they are very tempting targets,” Lindner said. “Displaying a phone is the same as displaying cash, but we use them so often that it’s easy to forget that.”
An increase in smartphone crime during the first half of the semester prompted YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins in mid-October to send a safety advisory on iPhone theft. In a Oct. 17 campuswide email, Higgins warned Yale students that the YPD has seen “several instances of phones being stolen on and around campus.” He cautioned students to “be aware” of their surroundings when talking or texting and to “look for well-populated, well-lighted areas.” In addition, Higgins advised students to register for Apple’s built-in GPS tracking system, which allows users to locate geographically a stolen iPhone as well as change security settings remotely.
“We have successfully recovered several iPhones and iPads recently and have been able to return them to their owners and to arrest the thieves,” Higgins said in his email, encouraging students to report any iPhone thefts immediately to the YPD.
Smartphone crime was also at the center of a conversation between Higgins and Yale College Council President John Gonzalez ’14 last week. Gonzalez and Higgins met last Tuesday to discuss the findings of the YCC’s report on campus safety, which detailed an array of safety issues ranging from poor street lighting to insufficient police presence. On the question of “Apple Picking,” Gonzalez said that the YPD chief asked the YCC to encourage students to obtain insurance coverage, activate GPS tracking applications for their electronic valuables and avoid texting while walking late at night.
While thefts of iPhones and other valuables have been on the rise this semester, no street robberies occurred directly on campus property, according to Lindner. Nine robberies, however, were reported in areas near Yale’s campus. Lindner said that while these kinds of incidents still remain a concern citywide, the close partnership between NHPD and YPD patrols has helped bring down crime and has led to a number of arrests this semester.
“There is no single system, safety tip or approach that can prevent all crime,” Lindner said. “We are fortunate that we have a safe campus, but we are in a city and, just like every other campus located in an urban setting, we need to be aware that crime can and does happen.”
In total, this semester Higgins sent 11 messages to the Yale community about crimes that occurred on or near campus, seven of which involved robberies or attempted robberies. Two messages reported sexual assaults against Yale students, and one email involved violent assaults of Yale students.