Student politicians implicated in newspaper thefts

Although other jurisdictions have successfully prosecuted those involved in the theft of free newspapers, a student newspaper in California is trying to make a university police department acknowledge that newspaper theft is a crime.

Campus police at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona refused to investigate the theft of a student newspaper on campus because it is distributed for free. About 2,500 copies of The Poly Post were stolen in May from distribution bins across campus, a loss of $1,117 in costs, said Sean Scully, the newspaper's adviser.

The newspaper began receiving calls from readers who were not able to find copies of the newspaper on certain parts of campus. Editors discovered that 12 of the newspaper's 40-plus distribution bins had been emptied, with most of the newspapers appearing in nearby trash bins.

Editors of the newspaper spotted students on campus distributing stacks of the newspaper as political propaganda because of an article in the newspaper. The front-page story focused on how some members of the student government declared a lack of confidence in the student government president, who was running for re-election.

Students even inserted political flyers in the newspaper before redistributing them, Scully said.Scully said regardless of whether they took the newspapers and threw them away, or just re-circulated them, it is unacceptable.

Campus police detective Don Kingwill said investigators concluded there was not a theft because the newspapers had no value since they are distributed for free.

Currently, there is no notice in the newspaper that states people are allowed only to take one copy before being charged for another, but the newspaper does plan to begin printing one this fall, Scully said.

Although the thefts of many student newspapers either go unsolved or uninvestigated, editors at some newspapers are able to find restitution after the theft of their publication.Administrators at Western Oregon University ordered a student in July to pay $100 for stealing multiple bundles of a campus-distributed student publication.

Witnesses spotted the student taking stacks of the Western Oregon Journal, a bimonthly student newspaper, from its distribution bins in June. Almost all of the publication's 2,300 issues were stolen — a loss costing about $3,900, said Susan Wickstrom, adviser of the newspaper.

Wickstrom said the student who stole the newspapers was featured in a cartoon that criticized campus student government elections.

After investigating, school custodians found bundles of the free newspapers in trash bins in almost all of the 10 buildings in which the publication is distributed.

Campus security at the university refused to investigate the incident because they said the newspaper should have posted a notice at its distribution points stating that readers are allowed only to take one copy before being charged for another. 

The notice, however, does appear in each copy of the newspaper.Wickstrom said about 500 copies of the stolen edition were reprinted later that week for distribution.

As part of the student's punishment, he will be required to put up signs at each newspaper distribution point that state the publication's circulation notice.

"We were very satisfied with the outcome, and very satisfied with the administrators," Wickstrom said.

California, California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, Fall 2004, Oregon, reports, The Poly Post, Western Oregon Journal, Western Oregon University