STORY BY BELLA GARCIA, MANAGING EDITOR
PHOTO BY MARQUES DERAMUS, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A string of thieves from Central America carried out an operation of motor vehicle thefts throughout Los Angeles and Orange County, resulting in 25 thefts on Cypress College campus last year, according to the Director of Campus Safety.
The Annual Crime and Safety Report released by the Office of Campus Safety disclosed that motor vehicle thefts on the Cypress College campus quadrupled over last year’s summer break.
In compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998, students and faculty were sent the report that disclosed campus crime statistics from the previous three years and security policies that included how to report crimes. In the report, is the type and definitions of Clery-related crimes that are published in the statistics.
The 2023 report, which is required to be issued by all colleges and universities by Oct. 1, illustrated a fourfold increase in motor vehicle thefts on campus in 2022 with previous years statistics counting six thefts in 2021 and two in 2020.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, vehicle thefts are one of the biggest crimes college students face today, a trend that accounts for 12 percent of reported on-campus crimes.
“The vast majority of these thefts occurred during the summer on Saturday and Sunday while the swap meet was taking place,” said Craig Lee, Director of Campus Safety.
According to Lee, a crew from Central America traveled through Orange County and LA County hitting older model Chevrolet trucks. These vehicles were targeted because it was easier to access them with shaved down keys.
“At any given time there are 15,000 people on campus…If some guy walks up and has a key and turns on the car and drives off with it, I’m not going to think he’s stealing it until it comes back later.”
When a car theft is reported on campus, the Campus Safety department works with the Cypress Police Department to open an investigation.
The Campus Safety Department and Cypress PD utilize CompStat (computer statistics) which allows them to target and pinpoint data similarities– in this case, this technology not only aided them in discovering the vehicles were Chevy trucks but in discovering how they were being stolen.
Essentially, all of the data points come in and the computer works it out for them.
The department discovered that the majority of thefts were occurring by the tennis court area. This area closest to an exit on campus made it easy for the thieves to “steal the cars, go off the shoulder, and jump onto any freeway near campus.”
Utilizing the campus cameras, Lee and the Cypress PD began to pinpoint the thefts to find where they took place and discovered a bright yellow minivan in every picture.
“We started paying attention,” Lee said.
Lee recounts the last time he saw the minivan, the Cypress PD came and arrested three individuals and credits the department’s ability to hone down on when the thefts were taking place with CompStat. The Cypress PD did not comment or give information regarding the thefts and arrests made.
Since then, there has only been one vehicle theft which leads the department to believe it was the three guys in the minivan who were hitting every single car. It took about three months for the department and Cypress PD to build the data points to figure out who it was.
“Resources are good, but it takes time to build them up and in the meantime unfortunately we had a fair amount of cars being stolen,” Lee said.
As far as a prevention plan to ensure more vehicle thefts take place, Lee said, “The prevention is primarily saturation,” Lee said, “If you constantly see a campus safety car driving around, you’re less likely to do something because they’re so visible.”
The report released by Cypress College’s sister schools, Fullerton College and North Orange Continuing Education, showed significantly smaller numbers from the previous three years. In 2020 and 2022, there were zero motor vehicle thefts and just one in 2021 on Fullerton’s campus– a larger school in population. NOCE saw one in 2020, one in 2021, and zero in 2022.
Taking into account that Cypress’ campus was closed from March 2020 through August 2021, still the motor vehicle thefts on campus in the previous three years from 2017 through 2019 collectively reached 12.
Lee considers the spike in vehicle thefts as an inconsistency that the department has never seen and will probably not see again.
“It was an anomaly that the whole county was facing so it’s hard to say what you are going to do about it in the future.”
As people settle into post-pandemic life and the swap meet grows, Lee has been granted permission from Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker,Vice President of Administrative Services, to hire two additional part-time officers who will supplement the officers already on the field. This means that the department has doubled their staff on the weekends when the crimes are primarily taking place during the swap meet.
In addition, Lee speaks with the chiefs of Buena Park and Cypress police departments once a month to go over trends of crime taking place in the cities.
“If it’s happening in Cypress and Buena Park it will be happening at the college, so it entails a lot of communication and statistical analysis to curb what is going on in our immediate area.”
As far as his concern of motor vehicle thefts indicating an increase in all crime on campus, Lee is not worried.
As the campus becomes more open, it is likely we are going to see an increase in crime and similar types of occurrences taking place.
“It is less of a worry and more of an acknowledgment that it will take place and increase and what can we do to mitigate it. The more population you have, the higher the chances,” said Lee. Right now, there is a new company in place that is helping to ensure cameras on campus remain operational at all times and maintain the operation of blue light phones.
While the report indicates a high record in vehicle thefts, Lee points out that the other categories of crime had counts that amounted to virtually nothing.
“I don’t want to give the false sense of ‘Oh my gosh we had 25 vehicle thefts, this place is becoming a crime ridden area’ because it’s not. We had a tough summer with vehicle thefts.”
Lee does not want the hiring of security, new utilization of cameras and other steps the department has taken to make people think the campus is going in a direction it is not. He would rather not have students and staff focus on the single stat of 25 motor vehicle thefts.
Regardless, he wants everyone to remember if you see something, say something.
“Don’t assume someone else is going to say something. I would much rather have one hundred phone calls on one thing than no phone calls on a big thing.”