According to Jager, the number of thefts in recent weeks is not exceptional. “At the start of the academic year, there’s always an increase in the number of thefts on campus,” says Jager. “The crooks are extra active because freshmen are easy prey for them.” He sees this phenomenon every year.

Middle-aged men

“We’re dealing with a criminal group operating in multiple educational institutions throughout the Netherlands,” says Jager. He bases this conclusion on ongoing research by EUR, in collaboration with Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the police. EM is not given access to that investigation because, according to Jager, it’s still ongoing. “The thieves at EUR are also operating at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences,” says Jager. “They use the same method and operate around the same period.”

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Another theft on campus

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“Victim statements indicate that the suspects are not students; they are usually middle-aged men,” explains Jager. “They steal from students by using a diversion trick, for example asking for directions to the library.”

Apple products

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Student got her phone stolen in Polak building

A man stole a student's phone while she was studying in the Polak building on Monday.

The thieves usually target students’ laptops and smartphones. “It’s almost certain that the majority of the stolen laptops and/or phones end up abroad, mainly in Belgium,” Jager continues. “Apple products are a particularly popular target.”

In addition, Jager knows that the criminal group regularly arrives in a vehicle. “The groups used to bring the vehicle to the campus, but now the thieves are being brought and picked up at Burgemeester Oudlaan or Kralingse Zoom.”

Last October, a student had her laptop stolen in the FoodPlaza. The day before, a man stole a student’s smartphone while she was studying in the Polak building. In the latter case, the man approached her and asked for directions in poor English, after which he left in a van.

124 cameras

EUR is taking the problem very seriously, says Jager. “It may not always be visible, but we continue to develop security measures behind the scene.” For example, more and more surveillance cameras are being installed in public spaces. There are currently 124 cameras on Woudestein campus. These cameras are purposely only hung outside the buildings. “If we hung cameras up inside the building, students and employees would complain about their privacy,” says Jager. “And having the cameras on the outside makes it impossible to enter or leave the building unseen. In 90 percent of the cases, you’re captured on camera.” Thanks to camera surveillance, several arrests have already been made in recent years, says Jager.

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The university is doing everything it can to ensure safety on campus, says Jager. For example, EUR works closely with Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Rotterdam police. “Take card readers, for example, which are gradually making buildings less accessible to outsiders,” says Jager. But EUR will never be completely closed. “The university believes that it’s important to be connected with the city.” For that reason, a fence around the campus or a pass system in the library isn’t going to happen. “Isolating ourselves from the outside world is certainly not what EUR wants.”

Less theft in Rotterdam

Twelve registered thefts have taken place on campus since September, compared with thirteen thefts that were registered in the same period last year. According to Jager, this number has been fairly stable for years. As such, the trend at Erasmus University is at odds with that in the city, where the number of incidents at educational institutions has fallen by 74 percent over the last eight years.