Since the beginning of 2022, UC San Diego and the La Jolla region have been experiencing a rise in crimes, particularly theft incidents. UCSD students and staff have been victims of bike and catalytic converter thefts on campus, while more serious crimes have been taking place in La Jolla, reflecting a general trend of increasing crime around the country.
During the months of January and February, there have been a total of six UC San Diego Police Department Timely Warnings compared to only three from the same period last year. The alerts are part of a campus-wide email and text messaging alert system. According to the UCPD crime logs, 2021 only saw 10 timely warnings in total.
All of the 2022 warnings have been in relation to burglary, theft, and one regarding arson. Only two suspects involved in the warnings have been apprehended. During this same period, there were also 102 police reports of bike thefts.
One of these thefts was intercepted by a student as seen in a viral Reddit post from Feb. 17. The video, with 78,000 views and 1,900 upvotes as of Feb. 25, depicts a student punching a man for attempting to steal a bike in front of Warren Lecture Hall. Andy Sazima, a first-year graduate student and owner of the bike from the video, said that he parked his bike outside the lecture hall to go to class at 3 p.m. When his class ended at 6:30 p.m., he went outside to see that his bike was missing.
“After it was stolen, I walked to the trolley to get home, and then had a realization that I should go back and check for more evidence,” Sazima said. “That’s when I ran into the guy who took the video. He showed it to me, we exchanged info, and he told me it was at the police station, so 10 minutes later I had my bike back.”
Sazima expressed what changes he believes could help reduce bike thefts.
“More surveillance would definitely not go over super well with the community,” Sazima continued. “These events seem to happen disproportionately at night, so maybe more patrols around or some cameras around the larger bike parking areas. Maybe more surveillance around the trolley? I’ve heard that since the trolley opened, more people come by to steal stuff, then can just hop on the trolley and get away quickly. I think the university should have a more open conversation about what the community wants. It’s mostly our stuff getting stolen, and it seems like it’s gotten more severe lately. I’ve only been here for a couple quarters, so I’m not one to reference for long-term trends, but that’s just what I’ve heard from others who attend.”
To learn more about these incidents, the UCSD Guardian asked Scott Gustafson, Lieutenant of UC San Diego Police Department and Leslie Sepuka, the Associate Director of University Communications, regarding the potential increase in on-campus crimes.
“The UC San Diego Police Department has seen an increase in property crimes over the past two months,” Sepuka said. “Much of the theft has been of bicycles, electric bicycles, and electric scooters.”
Sepuka and Gustafson explained that the rise in thefts can be attributed to more staff and students visiting campus. They also reported that UCPD is responding through staffing adjustments and increasing targeted patrols around campus.
“The [UC] police department also works closely with other departments on campus to prevent crime through high visibility of bike racks, bike lockers and bike garages,” read their email.
The increase follows local and national patterns, with more serious crimes taking place in La Jolla and California. In the past month there has been a stabbing of a UTC employee, a robbery at Chase bank located on Villa La Jolla Dr, and numerous reports of stolen catalytic converters.
In many cases of theft, perpetrators are looking for catalytic converters, a key component of a vehicle’s exhaust system, which includes various precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, which are worth up to $1,200 each. According to Carlsbad police Captain Christie Calderwood, the price of these metals has increased especially during the pandemic incentivizing thieves to steal them and extract the metals.
Calderwood stated that there were 2,230 reports of catalytic converter thefts in San Diego in 2021, an increase of over 1,800 since 2020. Stolen catalytic converters have been reported both on and off campus. There have been five reports of stolen catalytic converters on campus in the month of February, mostly near graduate housing.
The most frequent target for thieves are Toyota Priuses, followed by Honda Elements and Accords. Leonardo Gonzalez, an Earl Warren College junior, whose catalytic converter was stolen last week described what happened.
“I left my car parked outside by Costa Verde Boulevard for one night and got my catalytic converter stolen,” Gonzalez said. “When I turned my car on the next day it made a loud screeching sound and I knew something was wrong. To top it all off, my car is a 2007 Honda Accord that I never thought anyone would have their eyes on.”
Such occurrences mark a general rise in crime in California since the beginning of the pandemic. While the Black Lives Movement in 2020 encouraged many to advocate decreased funding for police departments, rising reports of criminal activity and homicide rates have led various city leaders to reverse their judgements. However, it’s important to note that collection of crime data in California and nationwide has been inconsistent.
To learn more about safety tips or reporting any crimes or suspicious activities on campus, visit the UCPD website.
Photo taken by Shirley Tan for The UCSD Guardian