It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon and Mark Schatzman, ‘17, was following his typical weekday routine.
After his classes ended Sept. 20, Schatzman headed to the fourth floor of Fairchild-Martindale Library where he usually studied. He found a table behind a whiteboard and set his phone and computer down to charge. When he returned from a short trip to Upper Cort, he noticed his phone was gone.
Schatzman then remembered seeing two young girls exit the elevator as he entered. The girls looked out of place, but Schatzman only thought about them for a moment or two. He then began to piece together the story unfolding before him: He believed the girls had taken his phone.
Lehigh’s open campus allows for anyone in the community to enter its public spaces, such as libraries. Students who feel comfortable leaving their belongings unattended in these buildings have sometimes experienced theft.
“Obviously I know it’s not good to leave things, but I’m a senior, and I’ve been doing this for the last couple of years,” Schatzman said. “I guess you start to take it for granted and not think about it anymore.”
Schatzman contacted Library & Technology Services to ask if they had seen any suspicious activity. Nothing had been reported, so Schatzman used his computer to send an iMessage to a friend who was studying in FML. Together, he said, they enabled the Find my iPhone application and could not believe what appeared on the screen before them.
“There was my phone — a quarter of a mile away, two quarters of a mile away,” Schatzman said. “I was actually sitting there watching as it traveled farther and farther away from Lehigh.”
Schatzman’s friend pointed out the phone stopped moving at a local Wendy’s and suggested they go there themselves. A little hesitant, Schatzman stayed behind and contacted the Lehigh University Police Department to see what his next move should be.
Though the operator said no one was available to help, an officer arrived shortly after the phone call. He took a look at Find my iPhone and decided to follow the phone.
“About two minutes after the officer left to go to Wendy’s, (my friend) messaged me saying they found my phone,” Schatzman said. “I was so excited that I started jumping up and down.”
Schatzman’s friends took a video of the incident, in which they approached the two girls sitting in the restaurant. One of them had the phone in hand, and when asked for it, handed it over without argument.
“I sent the video to LUPD, and I guess in collaboration with Bethlehem Police, they identified (the two girls) and said they had been in trouble for doing this before,” Schatzman said.
Edward Shupp, the chief of the LUPD, said security cameras outside of libraries have helped identify individuals involved with campus crimes.
Following the incident, Schatzman was contacted by a detective and asked to appear in court, but he said he preferred not to attend. He was also asked if he wanted to press charges, but said he was simply happy to get his phone back and did not see the need to do so.
Shupp said an officer took a report of Schatzman’s case, and there is an ongoing investigation.
“The story gets crazier because a few days later, (my friend and I) were on the fourth floor of FML again and two different girls walked in who were clearly not Lehigh students,” Schatzman said.
While this may seem unusual to some, Shupp said Lehigh’s libraries are open to the public.
“We are an open campus,” Shupp said. “City residents are not restricted from utilizing our libraries.”
Shupp said some individuals have been or will be charged for crimes related to theft in campus libraries.
Schatzman said he generally does not worry for his safety in campus facilities but has become more conscious of what he does with his valuables. He said he no longer leaves his phone unattended in the library and takes things with him even if he is just going to the bathroom.
Aislinn Strohecker, ‘18, who works as a help desk assistant in Linderman Library, recommends students keep track of their things at all times. She said non-Lehigh students come into the library all the time, particularly people on tours and parents looking to kill time, so it can become a busy place.
“I always warn my friends to take their things with them, even if they’re just going to the bathroom,” Strohecker said. “It may be annoying to lose your spot at a table, but it’s better than having to replace a $1,000 computer.”
Shupp suggests using common sense. If students value their property, he said, they should not leave it on a table or work space and expect it to be there when they return. There is also the option of registering electronic devices with LUPD.
Strohecker said she feels particularly safe in Linderman because it’s in the heart of campus. Despite its central location, theft has still been reported in the library.
Preom Sarkar, ‘18, had her laptop stolen last year when she left it in the rotunda at Linderman. She said she contacted LUPD right away and provided the officer with as much information as she could.
Sarkar said LUPD was helpful, but never followed up to let her know what they were doing to find her laptop. She never got her laptop back. Now, she tends to stay away from Linderman altogether.
“I feel uneasy at the libraries when I’m alone doing work,” Sarkar said. “But I would say I generally feel safer in FML now that I know the rotunda doesn’t have security cameras, which is surprising because it’s the most iconic part (of the library).”
Shupp said there are no security cameras inside of the libraries. LUPD officers are also not sent to specifically patrol libraries, he said, but officers patrol the entire campus and will walk through libraries from time to time.
Schatzman thinks a swipe-in system would give students greater peace of mind in campus libraries and would allow them to focus on studying instead of guarding their belongings.
FML seems to be a hot spot for theft, Schatzman said, so he doesn’t think it would be inconvenient for students to swipe-in if they would like to use the facility.
Though he believes greater security measures could be implemented, Schatzman recognizes the significance of keeping Lehigh’s campus open to a certain degree.
“I think there’s a relationship between Lehigh and the community that is very important, so if Lehigh were to do something like put up fences, it would be very detrimental to that relationship,” Schatzman said.
A positive connection with the community is often what is needed to stop crime before it occurs.
“The police can’t prevent crime and the community can’t prevent crime,” Shupp said. “If we work together, we can.”