Despite sound construction, excellent physical security equipment, good maintenance, and relatively intensive law enforcement patrol, theft is a perennial problem in student residence halls. Analysis of crime reports quickly reveals the problem; the majority of crimes are thefts of personal property which has been left unattended, unsecured, and unmarked.
At the University of Oklahoma (and at most U.S. colleges and universities) the majority of passive home security measures are already in place when you move into University Housing; the halls have excellent security doors and locks, are well-lighted, and are regularly patrolled. Procedural security is, unfortunately a different matter.
Most students come from a home environment where they were not the person responsible for security and are unused to taking a personal role in securing the residence. Additionally, most students are also unused to any group living arrangement, and are not cognizant that their actions affect not only their personal security, but the security of all those other students who reside in their housing unit.
Security in residence halls is collective; everyone has to cooperate to maintain adequate security. Every time an un-thinking peer props open an outside or a corridor door, YOUR security is affected. When your roommate, or suitemate, leaves the room or suite door open, YOUR security is compromised.
Take a few moments early in the semester to reach an agreement with those with whom you share access to your room about keeping the door locked at all times when no one is there; it is also good practice to keep the door closed and locked when you are present asleep.
Locking connecting bathroom doors is a violation of fire code because it creates a potential for someone to be locked in the bathroom with no way out; no after-market surface-mounted lock can provide effective security anyway, and the use of supplemental locks on connecting doors is strongly discouraged.
Accept that in a suite, you have three or more roommates instead of one or more, and work with all of them to achieve mutually acceptable security. If consensus cannot be achieved after reasonable effort, seek assistance from housing; your security is a fundamental need, and must be addressed if you are to function effectively as a student!
Learn the security rules, hours, and procedures, and cooperate! The rules are in place to help assure collective security for all residents. Deliberate noncompliance compromises the security of everyone who lives beyond the device(s) defeated. If the rules are too onerous for you, contact Housing officials to seek re-assignment or change.
Should you observe that a component of the security system is inoperable, report it promptly to a responsible official; if you aren't sure who that is, report it to the University Police, who will ensure it is routed to the appropriate office for correction.
Examples of conditions which should be reported are lights not working, doors which don't self-close and latch, locks which don't work, broken glass, windows that won't latch, common areas whose locks don't work, and any safety hazard.
If you identify conditions you think are dangerous, report those as well. If you have a concern about the adequacy of existing security devices, see your RA or housing association (at OU, the HCSA) representative, and suggest improvements. Many enhancements to physical security, such as improved lighting and additional emergency telephones, are the result of input from student residents.
Move-In and Move-Out are historically high-risk periods for theft because there is mass confusion involving property moving in and out of the halls, property is often left unattended "momentarily" while handling arrangements for access or turn-in, and the ability to distinguish those who "belong" from those who don't is severely diminished.
Periods immediately prior to breaks are also high-risk due to numbers of individuals looking for quick cash. Be aware of these and other risks inherent in the residence hall environment; take advantage of information provided by Housing staff and the University Police in printed materials and presentations; these sources are always glad to answer questions or provide advice or information to assist with a specific concern or situation.
Don't loan your key or ID card to anyone. If you lose your room key, report the loss promptly, and get the lock re-keyed. Report any problem with your lock for maintenance attention.
When you are deciding what personal property to keep in your room, give crime prevention a thought. Consider insurance. Many homeowner's policies provide coverage of personal effects of dependents while attending institutions of higher education. Should this not be the case, renter's insurance is available at reasonable rates from many vendors.
Articles of value should be concealed within the room, not left in plain view. Bear in mind that your ability to conceal the presence of some item from your roommate is extremely limited; if you have concerns about this vulnerability, you may want to re-think keeping the item in the room.
Keeping cash in the room is strongly discouraged; it is unidentifiable if taken and is uninsurable.
Blank checks are frequently stolen from rooms, and in many such thefts, the owner is unaware the checks are gone until notices of overdrafts are received. Keeping only the book of blanks from which you are currently writing checks is the best practice.
The best way to hang on to personal property is to mark it; engraving or marking with indelible ,marker your name and your driver license number accomplishes three things;
- it helps get your property back to you should you lose it,
- it reduces it potential resale value, and
- it makes it highly undesirable for a thief to possess since it's clearly not theirs.
Use of the driver license number (rather than a social security number) ensures that law enforcement can identify the owner if the property is recovered.
There are very few items which cannot be marked in some manner. A favorite target of theft is textbooks, which are readily convertible to cash at certain times of the year.
The recommended means of marking books (after, of course, you're certain that they are correct and you will not be dropping the course for which purchased) is to write your name in block letters on the edges of the pages in indelible marker AND to select a page number you can remember and on that page in every book,. write your name as close to the spine of the book as you can.
This type of marking is less likely to be noticed by a thief, but will guarantee you the ability to positively identify your book if stolen. And it won't be removed, since missing pages make a book unacceptable for buy-back. If you keep the book, no harm done. If you sell the book, the next buyer can line out your markings or simply add his/her own to yours.
Notifying criminals that your property is marked geometrically increases the effectiveness of marking, and OUPD conducts Operation ID to promote marking and warning. As you mark your property, record the make, model, and serial number.
Police cannot recover property unless it can be distinguished from all others of the same type - the manufacturer's serial number is the fastest and best way to do this, but most owners don't have this critically important data. Many cities and universities have similar programs; Check with your local and/or university police for details.
Also, many cities and universities have bicycle registration programs that can help with recovery of stolen bicycles. The University of Oklahoma requires registration of bicycles. The registration fee provides a multi-year decal which is affixed to the bicycle frame. The decal is removal-resistant and serves to notify potential thieves the serial number and owner information for the bike are on file with local law enforcement; a number of bicycles have been successfully recovered and returned to their owner as a result of registration, which is strongly recommended.
On the OU Norman Campus, the University Police conduct special registration drives at the beginning of each semester; at other times, students wishing to register their bicycle should bring the bike and photo identification to OUPD headquarters during regular business hours, or call 325-2864 to make an appointment. If you have an unusually expensive bicycle or other special concern, you may want to consider renting one of the bike lockers available at each center.
Parked vehicles are also the target of thieves with some frequency; the OU Norman Campus has central Oklahoma's largest collection of late-model, highly-accessorized, sporty vehicles. Coupled with the typical student's practice of parking the vehicles for days at a time without using it, and you have a situation ripe for theft.
University parking lots are universally well-lighted, but the closer you can park to a light, the better off you're likely to be. Check your vehicle as frequently as your schedule permits; keep it cleaned off (especially during snowy or icy windows) to give the impression it is regularly used.
Conceal accessories and valuables; any which cannot be concealed should be marked and deterrent decals placed on the windows. Convertibles and soft-top sport-utilities are particularly vulnerable, and extra efforts should be made to remove valuables when parking these vehicles.
Vehicle security systems are not particularly effective on campus because false alarms are frequent, and can be caused by wind gusts, transmissions from two-way radios, and a variety of other unavoidable but routine activities, and such alarms should not be relied upon to prevent theft on campus.