Catholic University newspapers stolen, area police refuse to investigate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After nearly 3,000 copies of CatholicUniversity of America’s student newspaper, the Tower, were foundtrashed around the Washington D.C. campus last week, editors are concernedpolice officials are taking the theft too lightly.

Last Friday Tower editors discovered half of their press run — typically 5,000 copies — in campus garbage bins instead of newsstands, andan editorial cartoon commenting on the paper’s gay-rights coverage wasripped from that issue and posted on the Tower‘s office door.

Tower News Editor Justine Garbarino and other staffers suspect theyknow the culprit based on tips from passersby and a process of elimination. Whenthey called the Metropolitan Police Department to report the theft and offer upthe information they had, Garbarino said, Tower editors were told therewas nothing the MPD could do because “they’re free papers soit’s not a criminal act.”

According to Israel James, MPD public information officer, he originallyadvised Tower editors that theft of free newspapers is not illegal, butsaid the amount of papers taken “brings up a question.”

Garbarino said she and others from the newspaper spoke with several MPDofficers from the 5th district and were unable to convince them to investigatethe case. After consulting a supervisor, officers told Tower staffers thetrashing of free papers is not a crime, Garbarino said. Asked why the incidentdoes not fall within the MPD’s purview, Lt. Ronald Wright of theMPD’s 5th district claimed he had not heard of the theft and said,”I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Tower editors are hopeful they will find better luck withCUA’s Department of Public Safety. According to Garbarino, video footagefrom campus cameras might provide evidence of the theft, and although PublicSafety officials will not let Tower editors review the tapes, they saidthey would look into them for suspicious activity.

Public Safety officials did not return calls for comment as of presstime.

According to Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press LawCenter, stealing newspapers — even free papers — is a crime.

“That the owner of property does not charge for it does not mean theproperty has no value,” Goldstein said. “If you win a contest for acar and someone sets the car on fire, they owe you a car even though youdidn’t pay for it.”

While Colorado, California and Maryland are currently the only states withlaws making the theft of free newspapers a crime, other states have prosecutednewspaper thieves under destruction of property or general theft statutes.

Finding the culprit is imperative to Tower editors who say theywould like to recover monetary damages — an average print run costs about$2,000 — and at least partially reimburse advertisers. The lack ofinitiative on behalf of MPD and school officials to pursue the theft isdisheartening, Garbarino said.

“We’ve been very frustrated with this whole process,” shesaid. “We work very hard and we feel like we’re kind of gettingpushed aside.”

This is not the first time newspapers have gone missing on the CUA campus.In 2006, a school official removed 150 copies of the Tower from binsoutside the admissions office on a day prospective students would be visitingthe school. The paper that week featured a front-page story on campuscrime.

For More Information:

  • SPLC Newspaper Theft Forum