Newspaper thieves trash 2,500 copies at California college

CALIFORNIA — Campus police at California Polytechnic Institute at Pomona chose not to investigate the theft of about 2,500 copies of The Poly Post, a student newspaper on campus, because they claimed someone cannot steal something that is distributed for free.

On May 19, the newspaper received calls from readers claiming they were not able to find newspapers on certain parts of campus. After investigating, editors discovered that 12 of the newspaper’s 40-plus distribution bins had been emptied, with most of the taken newspapers appearing in nearby trash bins. The newspaper publishes 6,500 copies each week.

Editors also spotted several students on campus distributing stacks of the newspaper as political propaganda because of a story that appeared in the newspaper. The front-page article focused on how some members of the student government’s senate voted for a resolution declaring their lack of confidence in its current student government president, who was running for re-election.

Sean Scully, adviser of the newspaper, said students even went as far as inserting political flyers in the newspaper before redistributing them.

“Whether they took the papers and threw them away, or just re-circulated them, either way, it is unacceptable,” he said. “We made it clear that these kind of things shouldn’t be tolerated.”

Detectives at the campus police department, however, did not agree with the claim that taking the newspapers is theft.

“The sergeants concluded there wasn’t a theft because there was no value because they were free,” said campus police detective Don Kingwill. “It’s hard to say there was a theft.”

Luis Gomez, former editor of the newspaper, said regardless of what appears in the newspaper, people should not have to right to steal them.

“By taking the newspapers, they’re taking away the freedom of the press,” he said.

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

“It’s actually something we meant to do two years ago and we just got busy with other stuff and never did,” Scully said. “I just thought it was something we’d never have to apply at our campus.”

Scully, who has been adviser of the newspaper for three years, could not recall any past incidents on campus where newspapers had been stolen after distribution. He estimates the newspaper lost $1,117 because of the theft.

Police would not investigate the incident even though other jurisdictions have ruled that stealing newspapers distributed for free is illegal. At least three jurisdictions, including Colorado and Maryland, have statutes specifically outlawing the theft of free newspapers. Prosecutors elsewhere have successfully pursued newspaper thieves using existing criminal laws.

The newspaper does not plan on pursuing any further investigation into the theft.

SPLC Newspaper Theft Forum