On-Campus Motor Thefts Raise Desire for More Camera Surveillance and Student Self-Accountability

Bike rack outside of Pub Safe’s building of all of the bikes found all over campus. Photo courtesy of Katie Morris.

Four motor vehicle thefts have occurred on Point Loma Nazarene University’s main campus since September 2023, three of which took place in the spring academic term.

The first incident back in the fall term occurred on September 24, and involved a 1997 beige Toyota Tacoma that was taken from the Wiley Residence Hall parking lot. The second theft involved a Kawasaki Z125 motorcycle also taken from the Wiley Residence Hall parking lot on March 30. The third incident, on April 1, involved a Honda Ruckus scooter stolen from Hendricks Residence Hall parking lot, and the fourth theft, reported on April 11, was of a Honda Navi motorcycle from the Hendricks Residence Hall parking lot.

The second and third motor vehicle thefts occurred during PLNU’s Easter Break, when many students were not on campus.

Kaz Trypuc, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety (Pub Safe), which operates 24/7 on PLNU’s campus, said typically during holiday breaks, Pub Safe has fewer officers on duty “which is typically two people.” On a fully staffed day, there are four Pub Safe officers working.

According to Trypuc, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) is investigating these thefts.

As of PLNU’s 2023 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, a document required to be released by schools receiving federal funding according to  the Clery Act, one on-campus motor vehicle theft was reported in 2020, five in 2021 and two in 2022.

Trypuc said that many of the motor vehicle thefts that have occurred on campus over the past few years have “essentially been teenagers grabbing unattended electric carts that belong to the university, driving them and then ditching them.”

The PLNU community was notified via email about each theft. 

After multiple attempts to reach recent theft victims, The Point has not received comments.

When a motor theft incident comes up, Trypuc said Pub Safe discusses it internally with other campus officials to see if it warrants notification to the campus community. 

Over recent years, Trypuc said there’s been a shift in Pub Safe from relying on student employees to increasing the presence of full-time security professionals, a move supported by the university’s cabinet.

Presently, a full-time officer is stationed at the Welcome Center on weekdays, with weekend coverage supplemented by student staff, both 24/7.

Trypuc said the aim is to potentially expand this model further in the future, contingent upon securing adequate funding, as full-time professionals bring enhanced training and expertise, ensuring more effective engagement in challenging situations.

Fourth-year biology major, Audrey Krivan, has her own thoughts on the amount of thefts that have been occurring on campus during her last semester here at PLNU.

“I think it’s a sign that word is getting around that our campus is an easy target for theft,” said Krivan. “I’m all for being an open campus during the day and being immersed in the local community, but if these occurrences are happening at night, either the front gate is being too lenient or not being watched closely enough, or they are getting in some other way which is unnerving.”

The PLNU community was notified via email about each theft. 

When a motor theft incident comes up, Trypuc said Pub Safe discusses it internally with other campus officials to see if it warrants notification to the campus community. 

Third-year media-communication major and Goodwin resident advisor (RA) Charlie McClaflin, shared his insight on how there is a tough line between not enough security and too much security for students.

“It is a hard balance to tell when policing becomes too much policing,” said McClaflin. “If Pub Safe is thoroughly checking everybody that comes in, I don’t think students would be happy with that, and it would be too much of a hassle. I do think there could be more done with safety precautions. I am just not exactly sure what those would be.”

One way Pub Safe is trying to protect students’ belongings is by taking bikes they find around PLNU that are left without locks. Outside of Pub Safe’s building is a bike rack with over a dozen bikes that officers have collected throughout campus. 

“We’ve collected all these bikes all across campus this year, and nobody’s come looking for them,” Trypuc said. “Even yesterday, while I was walking around, I found an E-bike that was just left outside, we saw no lock nothing. I had our officers grab it for safekeeping. And we brought it over here.”

Trypuc said that the student called in a couple of hours later and was concerned that their bike had been stolen. Once the student described the location of their bike before it was taken by Pub Safe, Kaz said the department had gathered it and told them to come pick it up.

In the summer of 2021, Pub Safe added a license plate recognition camera to the Welcome Center.

“It has proved invaluable in a number of incidents,” Trypuc said, “and that has been really helpful in capturing vehicle information, including a good description of the suspect’s vehicle … and license plate. It has also been helpful for the San Diego Police Department.”

There are approximately 150 cameras on PLNU’s main campus. About two-thirds of them are located inside campus buildings and one-third are set up to surveil outdoor locations.

“Although one hundred and fifty cameras is a considerable number, we have more than forty buildings spread across ninety acres,” Trypuc said. “And although cameras may act as a deterrent in some instances, they are often more valuable after an incident has already occurred.”

Trypuc said in the future, the department will evaluate the locations and placements of new on-campus security cameras.

“It’s a very large campus, there’s a lot of areas, we have a lot of parking spaces to cover,” Trypuc said. “We try to be wise and place those cameras where they make sense because they’re not cheap.”

There are currently no cameras in the Hendricks Residence Hall parking lot, where two thefts occurred this semester. 

Krivan felt that there was not enough technological security during the night of the thefts to identify the crimes and who was behind them.

“If there’s closed-circuit television (CCTV) everywhere on campus and there’s been an influx of night theft, I’m confused as to why these cameras are not being used to monitor more closely or [with more] frequency to prevent these occurrences,” said Krivan. “I feel that Pub Safe is doing something, but I don’t think they’re taking into account what’s going on and responding accordingly. To me, the increase of thefts at night should alert Pub Safe to be watching the CCTV overnight in order to intervene when the thefts are taking place or before they leave.”

Trypuc also said that the university’s sole vehicle entrance can prompt a misconception about how accessible the campus is. 

“As anyone who’s been here for a little bit of time knows, we have a very porous campus boundary,” Trypuc said. “It’s very easy and common for many members of the community to walk on and off campus without ever being engaged [with others]. But every once in a while somebody comes on campus who has bad intentions. Our [Pub Safe] goal is to identify those people as quickly as we can.”

As a Goodwin RA, McClaflin suggested students can be more aware of their belongings and do more to prevent thefts from occurring.

“People are quick to blame Pub Safe, but with bikes being stolen, a good thing to do would be to get metal bike locks and make sure your bike is secure,” said McClaflin. “Do all that you feel you should do to keep your stuff safe. If your stuff gets stolen and you are not taking the necessary precautions to keep it safe, then it might be on you.”

When it comes to property crime, specifically for motorcycles and bicycles, Trypuc also encourages students to lock up their belongings.

“Having a $3,000 ebike secured with a $20 cable lock is probably a way to feel a little bit better,” Trypuc said.

The other thing students can do, Trypuc said, is to report suspicious activity. 

“By large, I think our student body is really good at this,” Trypuc said. “It’s a small campus. People know when someone seems out of the ordinary. I would say 95% of suspicious person calls we get, we end up rolling out and it ends up not being a big deal. But you never know. And so we really appreciate people calling in.”

Having worked at Pub Safe for 18 years, Trypuc said he loves working in the department and that days when a theft occurs are a sad day for him knowing that a student has been impacted.

“We hope that we can do the best we can to minimize those numbers of days [of theft] in the calendar year,” Trypuc said, “and when [theft] comes up, for us to do the best we can to help them and law enforcement.”

Krivan and McClaflin do not feel less safe on campus, but Krivan specifically feels that her belongings are less safe. 

Krivan also expressed her concern that if these acts of theft that are not being dealt with immediately, it could open the door to worse crimes being committed on campus.

“If students’ tuition dollars are going to fund Pub Safe, I feel it’s an injustice that my peers’ belongings are being stolen and dealt with afterward rather than in the moment,” said Krivan. “If people with poor intentions are coming on to campus to steal a bike, what is stopping them from jumping a student or doing something worse if action is only being taken after the act has been done?”