Vehicle thefts decrease, sexual battery on the rise

By Justin Park

In the past few years, Cal Poly has seen a decrease in cases of
vehicle theft and burglary, while incidences of rape and sexual
battery have increased.

University Police’s annual security report, published on the
department’s Web site every Oct. 1, highlights statistics of
criminal activity over the past three years.

The cumulative efforts of the police and reported eyewitness
accounts have led to a significant decrease in illicit endeavors,
particularly in regards to vehicle theft and burglary.

From 2007 to 2008, incidences of vehicle theft dropped from a
reported 25 to 14, while burglary declined from 24 to 12, both a
near 50 percent reduction.

University Police has since taken further strides by
investigating the operations of underground institutions that work
in conjunction with the primary offenders.

“As far as auto theft, we’ve had the fortune of making some
quality arrests. They’ve led to incidents in which chop shops have
also been identified,” said Daniel Ponder, operations lieutenant
for University Police.

In chop shops, automobiles are dismantled and the individual
parts are sold at higher rates than that of the intact vehicle’s
original value.

Automobiles commonly subjected to disassembly encompass import
brands, such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

Kris Surber, administrative services coordinator for University
Police, cites individuals who send in tips and notices as major
factors in helping curb crime.

“A lot of it can be attributed to the work of our police,
parking officers and vigilant community members who call in
suspicious persons or activities and allow us an opportunity to
respond,” said Surber.

Ponder, a fixture of University Police since 1989, recalls high
levels of criminal activity during the early part of his career and
its gradual decrease since.

“In 1989, we had approximately 364 auto thefts. It was almost a
vehicle loss a day. Now, if we look at our current statistics, we
have 14,” said Ponder.

Over the course of two decades, he and his peers have worked
diligently alongside Parking and Transportation Services to curtail
criminal antics.

Although many assume PTS’ role is limited to helping individuals
plagued by car troubles and checking for parking decals, the police
credits their constant presence on campus as a key element in
noticing aberrant and peculiar activities.

“When you have PTS’ eyes and ears out there, their heightened
sense of awareness catches many things that seem out of place or
unusual,” said Ponder. “In many cases, they have been the catalyst
in [apprehending suspects].”

Despite the decrease in automobile-related incidents, the annual
security report conversely notes that cases of rape and sexual
battery have risen.

From 2007 to 2008, incidences of rape rose from a reported zero
to one, while sexual battery increased from one to three.

Although the occurrences are infrequent in comparison to theft
and burglary, University Police advises students to not be
satisfied with a false sense of security.

“Individuals are safer when they take personal responsibility
and develop a situational awareness,” said Ponder.

Ponder cites a common situation in which students unwittingly
make themselves prone to danger.

“For example, they may have their iPod headphones in their ears
and are unprepared for the event of someone walking up on them
rapidly.”

“Certainly, people are going to walk alone but when it’s
possible, walk with classmates or friends. Stay in well-lit and
well-traveled areas,” Surber advised.

A point of contention and criticism regarding sexual assault
centers around a law that prohibits students from carrying items,
such as pepper spray, which may act as a potent defense against
predators.

Under Section 626.10 of Assembly Bill No. 2470, “any person who,
without the written permission of the college or university
president or chancellor or his or her designee, brings or possesses
a less lethal weapon”upon the grounds of or within, a public or
private college or university campus is guilty of a
misdemeanor.”

“As much as it could be a benefit to a victim, it could also be
used by a predator to incapacitate them and overcome resistance,”
said Ponder. “I’m sure that the law was taking into consideration
that weapons on campus can have serious ramifications.”

Students harbor mixed thoughts on the matter, ranging from
understanding the law’s reasoning to expressing disappointment that
a means of protection is prohibited.

“I absolutely think students should be able to carry it with
them. It can be a very effective weapon against sexual assault,”
said Richard Liu, president of Associated Students,
Incorporated.

Drew Shafer, a fourth-year graphic design student, illustrates a
scenario in which its availability can only make matters worse.

“It’s like fighting fire with fire. Neither will defeat the
other, so it escalates,” said Shafer. “If the woman carries pepper
spray, the predator will carry a knife. If the predator starts
carrying a knife, the woman will start carrying a handgun, and so
on.”

University Police notes that pepper spray is not as effective in
the midst of an attack as some may believe.

“To actually be able to get it out and effectively use it in a
way that is not going to impact you is very difficult,” said
Surber.

As a safeguard measure, the Safety Escort Service, a
complimentary service provided by PTS, is available for students
who prefer to be escorted by a community service officer to their
preferred destination on campus.

The service can be requested by calling (909) 869-3070 and is
available from Monday to Thursday between 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Upon witnessing questionable activities on campus, Ponder
advises students to contact the police and refrain from taking
matters into their own hands.

“Time is of the essence. If you report it to us as soon as
possible, the more likely we can intercede, engage the individuals
and, if possible, make an arrest,” said Ponder.

University Police is located in Building 109 and can be
contacted at (909) 869-4139.

Reach Justin Park at: news@thepolypost.com

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