By Megan Ferguson, Chattanooga, TN–University students are experiencing a large number of thefts from cars on campus.

The thefts include parking decals, CDs, laptops, Ipads and purses, Police Chief Robert Ratchford said.

The majority of these thefts are easily preventable, he said.

“People will steal the parking decals because they are expensive,” Ratchford said. “But most of these thefts happen because students leave their doors unlocked or windows down.”

Ratchford said students will leave their doors unlocked because they feel that they are on campus and thus safe.

“Students aren’t the only ones on campus,” he said. “People can easily go through parking lots and check to see if your doors are locked.”

Ratchford said there are two easy solution to these types of break-ins.

Students need to lock their cars and keep valuable items hidden in their cars, Ratchford said.

“Parking decals, students can’t help that, it’s going to be visible,” he said. “But when people leave a GPS or backpack in the front seat in plain view, people walk by and go window shopping. They’ll open the unlocked car door or reach through the open window and take what they want.”

Campus police have made some arrests and have even caught the crimes on video.

“We received a call around 10 in the morning from a student who was studying in the parking lot,” Ratchford said. “Another student pulled up next to him and not 10 seconds passed before a guy came to check the doors and look inside the student’s van.”

He said the student did the smart thing by calling  campus police and the suspect was arrested  as he was exiting the parking lot.

Ratchford said there have been a few of thefts that result from forced entry but they have been seldom.

Most of the crimes are a crime of opportunity from unlocked cars, Ratchford said.

Although UTC has experienced a large growth in the student body, Ratchford said he does not believe the crimes are tied to that growth.

“I think it is an isolated number of individuals doing it on more than one occasion,” he said. “That is generally what we find in a lot of thefts – a repetitive offender that got away with it once and thinks he or she can do it again.”

Ratchford said the holiday season can be a motive for those walking by unlocked cars.

“It’s like window shopping,” he said. “Then they take what they see when they find out it’s not locked or just in plain sight.”

There were a total of 16 thefts from motor vehicles in 2011, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Serlena Martin, a Dayton, Tenn., senior, said the holidays are a motive for others to take things out of others cars.

“It’s getting close to Christmas, and they are in need of stuff,” Martin said.

Martin also said because students assume they are the only ones on  campus, they believe they can leave their valuables in their vehicles without the typical worry of a theft.

“People think that because they are on campus that their stuff is safe,” Martin said. “But that is just asking to have your stuff stolen by leaving it out in the open. Students need to be more careful.”

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