Thefts, break-ins startle students

Brian Holsonback had owned his car, worth $8,000, for two months before it was stolen. A month before the car was stolen, it had been broken into. Both crimes occurred in Parking Structure 3 on the PSU campus.

Brian Holsonback had owned his car, worth $8,000, for two months before it was stolen. A month before the car was stolen, it had been broken into. Both crimes occurred in Parking Structure 3 on the PSU campus.

Holsonback is one of hundreds of Portland State students who have been victims of car theft-related incidents on campus. From March 2006 to March 2007 there were 85 motor vehicle thefts and 317 car break-ins around PSU, according to the city of Portland.

With a high number of thefts and limited parking security, some students are questioning the safety of parking at PSU.

“You would assume it would be safe enough to go to a four-year university, pay fees and tuition and park in their parking structure and not have your vehicle stolen,” Holsonback said. “This is going to continue to be rampant until someone makes a big noise about it.”

After he found his car was missing on Feb. 6, Holsonback did what he thought was the right thing: he reported the crime to Campus Public Safety. Holsonback found out that Campus Safety does not take reports of stolen vehicles because they are not approved to issue that kind of report. He was referred to the Portland police, and his car still hasn’t been found.

There are no parking structure security guards, according to Chief of Campus Public Safety Mike Soto, but the university’s 14 public safety officers regularly patrol the three main parking structures. He said car break-ins and thefts are a major issue on campus, but he said it is not more dangerous than anywhere else in the city.

Portland police representative Brian Schmautz said the central Portland precinct, which covers 30 square miles of downtown including PSU, has an average of 1.25 cars stolen a day and five cars broken into.

Portland State has around one break-in a day, accounting for almost one out of the five car break-ins for the entire central precinct.

Soto said Campus Safety is working to combat car thefts with the available resources, but that their budget is limited. Hiring more staff is “definitely not in the budget,” Soto said.

Installing security cameras is possible, but it creates liabilities, Soto said. It would make PSU responsible if Campus Safety did not catch a criminal who was caught on video. If a person’s car is broken into in view of the camera, the victim could legally blame PSU because the camera implies that it was safe to park in the garage, Soto said.

Campus Safety and the PSU Transportation and Parking department are working to possibly add cameras to the parking structures, which will not happen right away, according to Dan Zalkow, manager of Transportation and Parking.

“It can be done, but it has to be well thought out and managed,” Zalkow said about increasing security in the garages, but added, “anything like that would have to be paid for by higher parking rates.”

Currently it costs $258 per term for a full-time parking pass. Transportation and Parking does not make a profit, Zalkow said, so any upgrades or improvements would mean a greater cost to students.

Zalkow said he is trying to get the support of student government to work on adding a new transportation fee that would help hire one or two parking security staff and decrease the cost of the flex pass. He said his plan would cost each student about $10 more each term.

Until major changes occur, Zalkow said they are working on smaller things such as replacing lights and painting parts of Parking Structure 3. Zalkow and Campus Safety said Parking Structure 3 is the most dangerous garage to park in because of its location on the outskirts of campus.

Former student body Vice President Ryan Klute said his car was broken into two times during a four-month period. He said his insurance company told him it will not cover his car if he parks in the PSU garages anymore.

Klute said he has only seen Campus Safety in the garages three or four times in his four years at PSU. He said parking safety is a problem that the university has never been able to address.

“If my insurance company said I can’t park there anymore, what am I supposed to do?” Klute said. “PSU needs to step up.”

After his car was stolen, Holsonback had to take the car he was planning to sell off the market. He said he continues to park at Portland State because he doesn’t have a choice. Like many PSU students, Holsonback must commute, and public transit isn’t an option for him.

Campus Public Safety gets many complaints from students about the safety of the parking structures, according to Soto, who said he tries to reply to every one. He said there is a trend with thefts and they are working diligently on the problem.

Students should prepare for crime to get worse. Soto said it always does in warmer weather.

More people leave their windows down to combat heat, causing more thefts. To protect their cars, Soto said students should leave nothing of worth in the vehicle and should avoid leaving their car in the garages overnight.

Soto said the students’ safety is in their own hands. Campus Safety distributes fliers to warn students about parking safety a few times a year, to teach them the proper ways to park. He said students and Campus Safety need to partner to combat the crime.

“I try not to make budgets the issue,” Soto said. “But I’m also saying, I have 14 officers, patrolling 24/7. Hopefully the picture they get is, ‘Yeah, OK, I have to participate to make myself safe as well.'”