Although other jurisdictions have successfully prosecuted those involved inthe theft of free newspapers, a student newspaper in California is trying tomake a university police department acknowledge that newspaper theft is acrime.
Campus police at California State Polytechnic University atPomona refused to investigate the theft of a student newspaper on campusbecause it is distributed for free. About 2,500 copies of The PolyPost were stolen in May from distribution bins across campus, a loss of$1,117 in costs, said Sean Scully, the newspaper’s adviser.
The newspaperbegan receiving calls from readers who were not able to find copies of thenewspaper on certain parts of campus. Editors discovered that 12 of thenewspaper’s 40-plus distribution bins had been emptied, with most of thenewspapers appearing in nearby trash bins.
Editors of the newspaperspotted students on campus distributing stacks of the newspaper as politicalpropaganda because of an article in the newspaper. The front-page story focusedon how some members of the student government declared a lack of confidence inthe student government president, who was running forre-election.
Students even inserted political flyers in the newspaperbefore redistributing them, Scully said.Scully said regardless ofwhether they took the newspapers and threw them away, or just re-circulatedthem, it is unacceptable.
Campus police detective Don Kingwill saidinvestigators concluded there was not a theft because the newspapers had novalue since they are distributed for free.
Currently, there is no noticein the newspaper that states people are allowed only to take one copy beforebeing charged for another, but the newspaper does plan to begin printing onethis fall, Scully said.
Although the thefts of many student newspaperseither go unsolved or uninvestigated, editors at some newspapers are able tofind restitution after the theft of their publication.Administrators atWestern Oregon University ordered a student in July to pay $100 forstealing multiple bundles of a campus-distributed studentpublication.
Witnesses spotted the student taking stacks of theWestern Oregon Journal, a bimonthly student newspaper, from itsdistribution bins in June. Almost all of the publication’s 2,300 issues werestolen — a loss costing about $3,900, said Susan Wickstrom, adviser of thenewspaper.
Wickstrom said the student who stole the newspapers wasfeatured in a cartoon that criticized campus student governmentelections.
After investigating, school custodians found bundles of thefree newspapers in trash bins in almost all of the 10 buildings in which thepublication is distributed.
Campus security at the university refused toinvestigate the incident because they said the newspaper should have posted anotice at its distribution points stating that readers are allowed only to takeone copy before being charged for another.
The notice, however, does appear ineach copy of the newspaper.Wickstrom said about 500 copies of the stolenedition were reprinted later that week for distribution.
As part of thestudent’s punishment, he will be required to put up signs at each newspaperdistribution point that state the publication’s circulation notice.
“Wewere very satisfied with the outcome, and very satisfied with theadministrators,” Wickstrom said.