Theft in our Schools

In Westchester, we pride ourselves on the high standards of our schools. We send our children off each day confident they are safe and protected. So complaints of theft seem unthinkable ¡V especially when the thieves are our children¡?s peers. Jackets, sneakers, calculators, CDs, and cell phones rank among the items taken most frequently in our high schools. While the occurrence of theft among Westchester students is relatively low, incidents that do occur tend to be underreported. The very fact that it happens at all is mystifying, since Westchester is known to be one of the most affluent areas in the nation. And Dr. Scott Mosenthal, principal of Irvington High School, notes: ¡§Although theft is not a tremendous problem, for any kid who loses something, it is a problem for him or her.¡? Pelham resident Candy Spafford says one of her sons had his jacket stolen at a band performance at the middle school. The jacket was taken out of a locked band room, and a few days later, her son, she says, ¡§saw a sixth grader wearing it and he took it back.¡? Another woman, who preferred not to use her name, says her daughter, a sophomore at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, had a $300 iPod stolen from her backpack, which she had left unattended among others in the cafeteria. ¡§When she and her friends returned, their backpacks had all been moved.¡? Roberta Clarke¡?s* son¡?s brand-new track shoes disappeared from another Westchester high school locker room. She explains, ¡§When he returned, they were gone.¡? Similarly, Village Justice Fred Weinstein says his son, a senior at Briarcliff High School, had his wallet stolen: ¡§He thinks someone was watching him when he was getting ready to leave the locker room. When he went out to get something, he left his wallet behind.¡? Judge Weinstein believes his son became a victim in part because of his sense of trust and safety. He says, ¡§One of the beauties of our community is that our kids feel secure enough not to think it could happen.¡? The Chappaqua mother agrees: ¡§The kids should be able to feel safe and comfortable, but they really can¡?t. We are a tamer version of the city, where you would never think to leave your possessions lying around.¡? Judge Weinstein says that the theft taught his son a ¡§hard lesson,¡? but ¡§he recognized that he could have guarded his things better.¡? Aron Marton, a freshman at Ardsley High School, admits to learning a similar lesson. He had an expensive calculator stolen from the locker room at his school and says, ¡§I learned not to leave my stuff out because people will go through it.¡? Detective Barbara Daquino of the Larchmont Police Department Youth Division says students in this area are very trusting: ¡§You should see our Lost and Found. It¡?s piled high with coats, rings, and watches.¡? Students are not the only victims of theft at school. Dr. Cathleen Hannigan, an English teacher at Valhalla High School, acknowledges that she, too, has been overly trusting. Five years ago, Dr. Hannigan recalls, she left the school¡?s digital camera on a shelf in her classroom. Then, it disappeared. She says, ¡§I was shocked, angered, and disappointed. I felt personally violated. I realized I had to be more responsible.¡? Detective Daquino says that theft at school is often not reported. She says, ¡§I believe the schools most likely keep it internal, but I also don¡?t think it is a huge problem.¡? Schools may not be the only ones not reporting theft. Aron Marton says, ¡§Reporting wouldn¡?t do anything. Because then I would have to go to the principal¡?s office and they would ask me who I thought did it. And I just didn¡?t want to get into it.¡? Each school handles theft differently. Clarke reports that when her son¡?s shoes were stolen, she spoke to the principal and found there was ¡§no recourse to take.¡? On the other hand, at Valhalla High School, while there appears to be no set procedure to address theft, Dr. Hannigan says she has a few options: ¡§I would speak to the student [who stole] and find out the reason for taking the item. I would make sure that the item was returned to the victim. Then, I would report the incident to our guidance department and certainly to our principal.¡? When something is reported stolen in Irvington High School, Dr. Mosenthal says, ¡§We announce the loss over the PA system. Then, we¡?ll usually have kids come in. They sense that if they don¡?t say something, they will be at the losing end.¡? Also, his faculty warns students against theft, and on the first day of school, he says, ¡§We tell them to inscribe their names on items like calculators and write down the serial numbers.¡? Why do students in affluent school districts steal? Dr. Ernie Collabolletta, school psychologist at Scarsdale High School, suggests a few reasons. He reminds us: ¡§Among the wealthy are the not-so-wealthy, and there are kids looking for a short cut.¡? He also suggests that celebrities portray enticing images of wealth in the media. And there is a thrill to stealing, he claims, ¡§to see if they can get away with it.¡? Dr. Collabolletta relates the story of a young person who rationalized his stealing by claiming the ¡§big stores would never miss what [he] stole.¡? Judge Weinstein adds that the prevalence of wealth itself influences some students: ¡§Kids may lose sight of the fact that material things take work.¡? Dr. Hannigan believes that ¡§students steal because they are able to. Nobody stops them.¡? She sees the locker room as particularly vulnerable: ¡§There are no teachers there, and the room is not properly secured.¡? The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states that for very young children, stealing is not necessarily abnormal, since they are not able to understand that theft is wrong. However, older kids and teenagers know theft is wrong; if they do steal, it is for a variety of reasons. For some, stealing may provide a way to ¡§make things equal¡? with a sibling, or it may be ¡§a show of bravery to friends.¡? Other reasons include acquiring the ability to give gifts or staving off the fear of dependency. To prevent theft, Judge Weinstein advises, ¡§Good communication between school administrators and local police is important.¡? Detective Daquino offers this practical advice: ¡§Don¡?t send your children to school with possessions they will miss. Let them go to school with what they need for the day.¡? And if they need to bring something valuable to school? ¡§Tell them to keep it close by ¡X in their pockets, their purses, or their backpacks.¡?

*Name has been changed.


When Parents Find Out Their Child Has Stolen Following are recommendations for parents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: ¡XTell the child that stealing is wrong. „?Help the youngster pay for or return the stolen object. „?Make sure that the child does not benefit from the theft in any way. „?Avoid lecturing, predicting future bad behavior, or saying that they now consider the child to be a thief or a bad person. „?Make clear that this behavior is totally unacceptable within the family tradition and the community. If stealing is persistent or accompanied by other anti-social behaviors, it may be a sign of more serious problems in the child¡?s emotional development or in the family. Source: