A False Sense of Security

Students should learn from recent thefts

Harvard prides itself on fostering a community-like atmosphere through the House system, with the aim of making students feel more at home.  While House life is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable elements of the Harvard experience, an undue reliance on the trustworthiness of this community can have negative consequences. One example of this sort of problem is the recent uptick in laptop thefts this month. Sixteen laptops have been reported stolen this April, twice as many as were reported missing in the month of March. In many cases these thefts seem to have been the result of not taking necessary precautions, as they have occurred in relatively public places.

College campuses are rife with laptops—almost every student owns one—a quality that makes these campuses, which often feel like safe communities, prime targets for those looking to capitalize on an abundant supply of a valuable good. Students should be cognizant of this unfortunate reality and take precautions against laptop theft. While one may feel that dining halls and libraries are safe places to momentarily leave a laptop unattended, these oft-frequented locations are actually quite conducive to burglary, and asking a friend across the dining hall to keep an eye on one’s computer is not an unassailable form of protection.

The rise of burglaries on campus should not make members of the Harvard community live in constant fear. On the contrary, Houses should do everything in their power to ensure that their residents feel safe in a community environment, but this sense of security should be augmented by an awareness that no community is perfect and precautions must be taken no matter how collegial the atmosphere. Students should be especially certain to maintain the security of their own rooms. Although the Houses are supposed to be student homes, a lot of people have keys to those homes, and the sense of comfort of these places has a tendency to create a false sense of security that is not representative of the actual dangers of communal living.

Since the Harvard University Police Department does not publicize its logs for more than sixty days, the minimum period allowed by law, there is no way to know whether April represents an anomaly or if it is part of some wider trend from merely visiting HUPD's website. Thus, while HUPD cannot possibly be responsible for making sure every laptop is accounted for at all times, they would better serve Harvard students if they were more transparent about criminal history on campus. After that, it is up to individual students to take care of their possessions.