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How schools address smartphone thefts

Local schools see some device snatching but keep theft numbers down


by: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego teens are more likely to turn in a misplaced smartphone than to swipe one out of someone's backpack, but high-priced electronic devices do vanish at local schools.Lake Oswego teens are more likely to turn in a misplaced smartphone than to swipe one out of someone’s backpack, but high-priced electronic devices do vanish at local schools.

Most teens are “mobile Internet users,” far more than the average adult, according to Pew Research Institute. Students frequently take their iPhones and iPads to school — and school administrators’ theft prevention instructions to students may not always stick. Yet, school security evolves to address theft issues.

Given the chance, one bad apple at a school could do some Apple picking. Thieves can hawk used electronic wares on Craigslist. Most students reported phone thefts to their school, although Lake Oswego police received a few reports recently.

Last school year, Lakeridge High School Vice Principal John Parke said reports of smartphone thefts were coming in about twice a month, but school employees found one of the culprits, and there were half as many thefts reported this fall. Most phones were liberated from unlocked lockers and unattended bags in the boys locker room. A few phones were snatched in the girls locker room, where a thief got caught. A student who was working as a teacher’s aide was studying in the locker room at the time, and the student spotted the thief. Now, aides are stationed in locker rooms during most periods.

“The few (phones) we’ve had stolen this year we have gotten back,” Parke said.

A couple reasons thefts are scarce locally are: Most students have a decent smartphone, and many smartphones have security features such as a tracker, Parke said.

Plus, “there aren’t a lot of kids that really want to steal from their friends, that are capable of stealing, but you get one person or two, maybe even three in a group of 1,500,” he said.

Lake Oswego High School Vice Principal Travis Johnson said he hears daily reports of phones that have gone missing. Phones most often disappear when they fall out of a student’s pocket, and an opportunistic person comes along — or the phone is simply lost, Johnson said. The phones usually resurface.

“For the most part here, students are on the up and up and do the right thing,” he said.

Lake Oswego Junior High Vice Principal Desiree Fisher said no thefts have been brought to her attention in recent years, although she recalls some cellphone thefts in locker rooms after school a few years back, and so staff started to lock the locker room after hours.by: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: VERN UYETAKE - Some local schools do see smartphone thefts and take appropriate action.

“Most of the kids have their cellphones with them, which is why I think most of the time they don’t get stolen,” Fisher said.

Lakeridge Junior High Principal Kurt Schultz said he talks with students about being responsible for their property and not sharing locker combinations. Schultz said devices generally are reported lost or missing, rather than stolen, and a couple of devices are turned in each week. Also, most students know to hit the off button when in class.

“A lot of kids do have devices, and they do use them before and after school,” Schultz said.

Not all thefts are reported to police. Last year, police received two reports of stolen phones from January to July, one in March at LOJHS and one in June at LOHS, which was later determined to be lost, Lake Oswego Police Sgt. Tom Hamann said. This fall, there were three iPhones reported stolen from Lakeridge High School in September, one iPhone reported stolen from Lake Oswego High School in October, no iPhones reported stolen in November and one iPhone reported stolen from Lakeridge High School in December.

Opportunities for thieves abound with most teens packing electronic devices.

About three in four teens ages 12 to 17 in a 2012 survey said they access the Internet on electronic devices at least occasionally, according to Pew Research Institute. That’s the same as adults age 18 to 49, but, when older adults are included, usage drops to 55 percent on average.

Most new iPhones are about $200 to $500, and an iPad can be $300 to more than $900. On Craigslist, there are hundreds of such items for sale at a much lower price. There’s no filter as with a pawnshop, where employees check with police to see if a device is stolen before selling it.

Yet, Hamann said school in general is a less likely spot for the light-fingered.

“Kids are generally going to be safer in school than they would be out in the general public for sure,” Hamann said. “But, that being said, they should always be practicing the same behavior they would in public: paying attention to their surroundings, knowing where their devices are because, unfortunately, thefts do happen in our schools.”

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @JillianDaley.