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An increase of e-scooter thefts on campus has resulted in student frustration over the lack of security.

Credit: Mollie Benn

Students are expressing concern over a lack of campus security amid a surge of electric scooter thefts on campus.

Scooters are currently banned from campus housing due to their classification as a fire hazard, prompting students to voice displeasure with the regulations. Penn's Division of Public Safety shared their ongoing theft prevention efforts and initiatives with The Daily Pennsylvanian in response to students' concerns. 

17 scooter thefts were reported in Penn’s DPS patrol zone between Jan. 1 and Feb. 2. Although bike thefts are decreasing in the same time frame, it is “only because there’s an increase in scooter theft,” Vice President for Public Safety Kathleen Shields Anderson told The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Engineering first year Ajay Sheth shared his frustration at the increase in thefts. 

“They should be doing something about making sure that [the scooters] don't get stolen at the rate that [they] do,” he said.

College first year Josh Narcisse said that his scooter has been stolen twice, with the most recent incident occurring on Feb. 2.

On the first occasion, Narcisse described his attempts to find the stolen scooter as a "tedious process," as he alleged that Penn Police did not provide him with much assistance. Narcisse was unable to recover the scooter and spent $400 for a replacement scooter in addition to an AirTag to track its location.

When Narcisse's scooter was stolen again, he said that he had difficulty contacting Penn Police to report the theft, but ultimately received assistance that helped him retrieve it.

“I talked to my head coach, and he was able to connect me with a friend of his who was a detective here at Penn," Narcisse said. "And then they were willing to help me.”

Several members of Penn's football team also told the DP that they have experienced scooter thefts.

Wharton first year Darius Beauvoir said that — within his first couple of weeks on campus — his $600 scooter was stolen from the exterior of Gregory College House at approximately 3 a.m. He stated that, in response to his voicing of concerns, Penn security staff suggested that scooters would be protected outside.

“[Security] pretty much assured us that if we're leaving them outside, things will be okay. There's cameras, so we'll be able to see who's taking them," Beauvoir said. "And, I mean, that just wasn't the case.”

While Beauvoir said that he understands concerns over the lithium batteries in the scooters having the potential to start fires, he believes that it is possible to find solutions involving storing the scooters in a safe and enclosed space.

“The Radian has a room downstairs where everyone can put their bikes and scooters — and it's not just for student-athletes, it's for everyone," Beauvoir said. "The room is also secure, [as] nobody can get in without a PennID." 

College first year Devin Malloy, who also plays for the football team, said that he was warned about scooter safety in his early days at Penn.

“When we first got on campus, the older kids on the football team told us to make sure [to] be serious about taking in your scooter because it will get stolen,” he said. 

Malloy said that the cost of scooters does not stop at the initial purchase, which already ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars — as many people spend hundreds of dollars either on replacing their scooters or on additional locks and tracking devices.

He added that — after being barred from bringing the scooter into his dorm in Gregory — he placed his scooter outside of Claudia Cohen Hall overnight underneath two cameras. Despite taking the precaution of placing his scooter in a well-lit area, he returned the next day to see that all of the scooter's screws had been loosened, leaving the scooter undrivable.

Penn’s DPS told the DP that it implemented a bait scooter program to combat the thefts, which involves attaching a tracking device to a scooter that is then secured with a lock and placed in an area more subject to thefts. When someone steals the scooter, DPS is then able to dispatch an officer to stop the individual. 

“We’ve made a number of arrests over the past year of individuals who seem to be specializing in scooter thefts,” Anderson told the DP. 

DPS also has an extensive camera system set up on many of the bike racks across campus that is used for investigative purposes. Based on the information from those cameras, DPS has identified several individuals who have committed multiple scooter thefts and appear to be “specializing” in this type of crime.

After someone is apprehended through the bait scooter program, DPS informs the perpetrator of the camera system and of their strategies to investigate thefts on campus.

“We try to educate the individual that this is not a good area to commit these types of crimes,” Anderson said.

From those it has identified, DPS has determined that the majority of thefts have been committed by “non-Penn students.” Anderson advised that if students have concerns about a potential theft, they should call (215) 573-3333 to contact DPS, who will investigate to determine whether the situation requires further action. 

“Our community uses [scooters] for transportation — this is important to our community and therefore we’re committing our resources to it,” she said.

Philadelphia’s Indego bike share program faced similar theft challenges in 2020 — with nearly 25% of Indego's 1400 bikes stolen during the year, costing the company $500,000. As a result, tracking devices were installed and action was taken to limit the use of stolen credit cards within the system. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect additional context about the Division of Public Safety's scooter theft prevention programs, which the division has implemented in response to recent crimes; and how DPS deals with perpetrators of scooter theft.

Correction: This article has been updated to include the correct phone number for Penn's Division of Public Safety. The DP regrets this error.