Univ. of California police say ‘price tag’ on student newspaper makes trashing of 2,300 copies a crime

Police at the University of California at Santa Barbara areinvestigating the theft of more than 2,300 copies of the Daily Nexus, thecampus newspaper.

Newspapers were taken from racks Jan. 14 and throwninto garbage cans and recycling bins, said Brendan Buhler, the newspaper’seditor. Members of the newspaper staff found 2,393 papers in 10trashcans.

Buhler reported the theft to the campus police. He said eachnewspaper costs about 50 cents to produce, so the Daily Nexus lost nearly$1,200 from the theft.

“When we first tried reporting it, the police toldus that free papers can’t be stolen,” Buhler said.

When the police weretold that there was a charge for additional copies of the paper, they began toinvestigate the matter as a theft. Signs posted on distribution racks notifyreaders that the first copy of the paper is free and each additional copy is$1.

Campus police officer Mark Signa said that because the newspaper puta value on the paper, stealing it is a crime. Without the sign, the papers wouldbe considered free and taking more than one would not constitute theft, heclaimed.

Signa said there are no suspects, but police are interviewingwitnesses and going over tapes from video surveillance on campus.

Buhlersaid he didn’t know why the newspapers were stolen.

“If I had to guess,it was probably somebody who wanted to keep their name out of the paper,” hesaid.

The Daily Nexus has encountered newspaper theft in the past.In 1997, thousands of copies of the newspaper were stolen by the then-studentgovernment president who was brought before a campus disciplinarycommittee.

SPLC View: Legally, the presence of a sign or noticeindicating that readers will be charged for taking extra copies should notmatter (and certainly not when someone takes 2,393 extra copies and throws themin trash bins). But it does seem to matter to police. And convincing police thatnewspaper theft is a crime worthy of investigation is frequently the firsthurdle student journalists have to overcome in responding to the problem. Thisis not the first instance where we have heard that such “price tags” have made adifference and that is why we have long urged student media to include suchnotices on their publications, or, as here, on their newsracks.