Phones Grabbed and a Nabber Nabbed

IMG_1163By SASCHA RAIYN, News Editor

Tavneet Athwal actually made it a habit to leave her phone behind.
“My dad has a tracker on my phone,” said Athwal, a health policy major. “I don’t like being tracked and sometimes I’m not exactly where I say that I’m at. So, I would leave my phone here and actually go wherever I want to be.”
‘Here’ was the student organization office on the second floor of the University Center.
Two weeks ago, Athwal plugged her phone into the charging station there. She went to study. She went to class. She went to hang out with friends.
When she teased a friend that she would text a boy on her friend’s behalf, she went back for her phone. But it was gone.
Of the 39 crimes reported on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus last year 36 were thefts. Most of the time, said Police Chief Kevin Williams, items are stolen because they are left unattended in the campus’ most populated areas. And most of the time those items are not recovered.
That day, Athwal saw someone in the student organization office she thought looked suspicious. Athwal said when she asked about the phone, the person acted suspicious, too.
“You can tell a lot about a person — the way they’re sitting, they way they’re talking and their eye movements,” Athwal said. “You can sometimes tell if somebody’s being honest.”
“It’s like how when people lie they give extra details that they don’t have to,” said Athwal’s friend, senior software engineering major Franz Knight (not his legal name).
Knight tried to follow the person as he left the student organization office, but lost track of him as he left the building.
The Find My iPhone app didn’t work because the phone had been turned off.
So, Knight hatched a plan to get Athwal’s phone back and catch the culprit.
When he saw a young man ‘walking back and forth’ and ‘staring’ at phones charging on a station on the lower level of the UC last week, he plugged his own iPhone into the charging station. He had activated an app that wouldn’t allow the phone to be turned off without a passcode.
“I said: ‘Hey, alright guys, I’ll see you later. I’m going home,’ and I made sure he could hear it,” Knight said. “Then I left and when I came back and checked the phone, it was gone and so was he.”
But, Knight had forgotten to enable the airplane mode in the app and wasn’t able to track his phone, either.
He called public safety, filed a report and checked other places where he knew things were often stolen, like the Fieldhouse and the library.
In the library, he ran into a student he thought knew — the man he was looking for. That student confirmed the person Knight described was his 14-year-old brother.
Knight said the student was surprised and embarrassed. He and Knight confronted the younger brother at the Union. He returned the phone — Knight said without the sim card. Campus Safety was called and a report filed.
Director of Campus Safety and Police Chief Kevin Williams said like most crimes on the UM-Dearborn campus, this one was committed by a non-student.
“If that person comes back to campus, they are subject to arrest and will be arrested,” Williams said.
Williams also said there is no evidence suggesting this person was involved in any other thefts on campus.
This is an important point for the older brother, who is a UM-Dearborn student. He said he feels that his brother is suddenly suspected of having stolen everything that has disappeared on campus in recent history, and that’s not fair.
He’s also concerned about the racial tones some of the inquiries have taken.
Athwal said she’s more interested in getting her phone back than pressing charges against whoever took it. But Knight plans to press charges with the City of Dearborn.
“If at such a young age he’s getting away with stealing so much, then the mindset is going to be like ‘I’ve been doing this for so long’ and it might just escalate, and it’s going to be worse for him and the effect it’s going to have on his family is just going to get worse,” Knight said.
He said he thinks the teen will be able to clear any criminal activity from his record before he comes of age.
“I know his future is not going to be ruined. It’s more like ensuring the safety of his future if he’s getting in trouble now,” said Knight.
Student Government president Bradley Pischea said he had his phone stolen from a charger a year ago. He was more interested in getting it back than seeing anyone get in trouble, but he said it’s important to report it either way.
“I think a lot of people will have their phones taken and just be like ‘Oh darn, what can be done about it?’ But even if public safety isn’t able to recover phones… it at least establishes a trend and shows to them that there’s a pattern of things that are going on,” Pischea said. “Then the university is more apt to take a look at it and take some steps to alleviate some of those problems.”
“I think the takeaway is that we need to be smarter,” Chief Williams added. “It is never a good practice to leave valuables unattended.”
Williams said a system like one used at Ohio State might work well on the UM-Dearborn campus. That system provides lock boxes that can be opened using a passcode or thumbprint. The department is researching the cost of implementing something similar.
Knight says he would like to see cameras strategically placed throughout the campus.
“I figured they would have cameras by now, but until they install cameras you’ll have to take matters into your own hands,” Knight said. “I’m going to get the next person who’s a thief on campus until they decide they’re going to install cameras.”
Chief Williams warned that he does encourage ‘sting operations.’