Theft from vehicles common crime at PSU

Since the start of 2010 there have been 13 reports of theft from vehicles on Portland State University’s campus, as well as nine reports of damage being done to vehicles, according to a monthly report generated by the Campus Public Safety Office.

Since the start of 2010 there have been 13 reports of theft from vehicles on Portland State University’s campus, as well as nine reports of damage being done to vehicles, according to a monthly report generated by the Campus Public Safety Office.

The CPSO defines motor vehicle theft as “the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle.” In PSU’s campus reports, motor vehicle crimes are broken down into two categories: theft from a motor vehicle and damage to a motor vehicle.

The on-campus crimes included theft of personal property, removal of PSU parking permits and vandalism or severe damage to the vehicle’s structure. There has only been one reported attempted theft of a vehicle itself, which occurred on April 12 in Parking Structure 1.

PSU is required to generate an annual crime statistics report for submission to the federal government, as defined by the Clergy Act of 1990.

As per regulation, CPSO generates a report of a list of 15 index crimes with varying subdivisions. The most focused on are the categories pertaining to sex offenses, bias or hate crimes against the PSU community.

However, the most frequent crimes are related to burglary, motor vehicle theft and drug and liquor law violations. These crimes are reported on campus, in residence halls, off campus and on public property.

The CPSO crime statistics from 2008 estimated that there were 336 on-campus crimes. A total of 31 motor vehicle thefts for all locations were also reported, which is a significant decrease from the 57 reports in 2007.

The Portland City Crime Mapper, which compiles crime data for geographic grid locations around Portland, cites the area around PSU as having experienced a monthly average of six to 15 vehicle thefts—successful or otherwise—from April 2009 to March 2010. In addition, there were also seven to 12 counts of vehicle property theft during that same time span.

Since the start of 2010 there were also an estimated 50 counts of theft from a vehicle in the area surrounding PSU, according to the map.

However, the map indicates that PSU is a relatively safe place to park one’s vehicle. As one follows the interactive map further north, it is clear that crime—and specifically auto-related crimes—drastically increases in frequency in the main downtown area. For example, the area surrounding Pioneer Place experienced anywhere from 39 to 1,000 auto thefts over the past year.

It is difficult to determine any one cause of the frequency of auto theft from the area surrounding PSU, in part because the majority of vehicles are secured and parked in PSU-monitored areas.

“Security in the parking garages and lots is facilitated through both Campus Public Safety and Transportation & Parking Services,” said Sarah Renkens, the manager of Transportation & Parking Services at PSU.

While there is no closed-circuit system that monitors parking on campus, “CPSO officers patrol the parking facilities as they do buildings and other areas on campus,” Renkens said. “Additionally, when our Parking Enforcement officers patrol the lots and garages they help to report any suspicious behavior or situations that they encounter.”

According to Renkens, the lack of automated security systems is due to the prohibitive cost of installation and maintenance, as well as monitoring the footage that would be recorded.

“In order to install a comprehensive camera system that would be useful for investigating vehicle break-ins, there would need to be hundreds of cameras in each facility to monitor each angle and get each parking space within view of the camera,” she said. “Another barrier to installing a camera system in the parking garages is the availability of staff to monitor them or tend to requests for video footage from the cameras. For these reasons we have focused efforts on patrols and education.”

In the event that theft still does occur at PSU, CPSO will generate a report of the incident.

Students are responsible for the costs of any damage done or property stolen. However, if a student’s parking pass is stolen from campus property, the Transportation Parking Services office will supposedly replace it at no charge.

“The campus is located in an urban environment and unfortunately vehicle break-ins are often part of that environment,” Renkens said. “We do our best to patrol the facilities…but the best way to avoid a vehicle break-in is to remove anything valuable from your vehicle.”

As it stands, the consequences of auto theft or damage largely lie with the students who choose to park their vehicles on or near PSU property, and their choosing to do so makes the implicit commitment not to hold the university liable in any event.

For one PSU student, this hit close to home.

On March 4, senior Gabriela Dominguez parked her car in Parking Structure 1 so that she could attend her classes. Dominguez is a first generation student at PSU, on a scholarship, who has a young daughter in daycare.

According to Dominguez, her car was left in the parking structure from approximately 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. When she returned to the fourth floor, where the car was parked, she discovered that it was missing.

“[It was the] only car my husband and I had to move around,” Dominguez said. “It was an old car, but it worked for us. We had to work hard to pay insurance, gas and maintenance for it while both of us are at school trying to get an education.”

Dominguez said she called CPSO, where she was told that it did not handle cases pertaining to stolen vehicles. After calling back, the operator transferred her to the Portland Police. However, according to Dominguez, the number was out of service.

“I called [CPSO] again and…[the operator] didn’t answer,” she said.

Dominguez then called the Portland Police’s non-emergency line, and submitted information so that they could process a theft report and begin searching for her car, Dominguez said. She also called her insurance company, who offered her use of a rental car for a two-week period while she weighed her options.

In addition, Dominguez went to the TAPS office in an attempt to refund her lost parking permit.

“They told me I had to pay a fee for a parking permit replacement as long I could bring them the police report number, which I did,” Dominguez said. “I paid $300 for the permit and [TAPS] didn’t want to refund me for it. Maybe they will do something when a professor’s car gets stolen.

“I believe they should at least have one camera at each entrance and exit of each parking building,” she said.

According to Dominguez, when she spoke with a representative at the TAPS office she was told that at least nine cars had been stolen from campus in the last year.

“I never signed anything that stated that I was responsible for whatever happens to my car,” she said.

As of today, the Portland Police have not recovered Dominguez’s car. In addition, her insurance only provided her with a valuation of the stolen car with which to buy another.