By Devin Rose
Oak Park and River Forest High School has seen an increase in student arrests in recent weeks resulting from rising reports of theft, and officials have come up with a couple of different reasons for the spike.
So far this month, at least three students have been arrested in connection with thefts at the school.
On Nov. 1, a 16-year-old boy was arrested at the school for stealing an iPod and $10 that belonged to a girl who put her book bag underneath a table in the cafeteria. Two days later, a 17-year-old was arrested for his role in the same incident. Oak Park Police Commander LaDon Reynolds said the two worked together to commit the offense.
There was insufficient evidence to arrest a third subject in the incident who is also an OPRF student, Reynolds said.
On Nov. 4, an Oak Park boy turned himself in to police after he allegedly took a girl's iPhone from her desk on Oct. 31.
Reynolds confirmed an increasing number of theft reports from the school, 201 N. Scoville Ave., in recent weeks and months, and said the arrest in August of 17-year-old Pawel Borowski-Beszta might have "shed some light" on the issue of theft.
Borowski-Beszta, who was a student at OPRF, faces felony charges after police found cocaine, marijuana and a handgun at an apartment in the first block of Harrison Street. Police also found calculators, cellphones and iPods that had been reported stolen from the high school. He is due back in court Nov. 30, Reynolds said.
Police Chief Rick Tanksley said the discovery of the stolen property in August might be an incentive for students to report thefts to police now, which they don't always do.
The school does not mandate that thefts be reported to police. School officials can determine punishment for offenders according to the code of conduct, but it's up to victims and their parents if they want to report the theft or press charges.
Deputy Chief Anthony Ambrose said the August incident might have made people realize that, if items aren't reported stolen, people won't get them back.
"If we don't have the information, we can't address the issue," Reynolds said.
School officials attributed the increase to a recent swap of about 2,000 locks on the school's gym lockers after a 15-year-old student was arrested last month for breaking into a locker.
The student allegedly used a copy of a master key he said he got from a former student. He faces three felony charges.
School spokesperson Kay Foran said the change of locks has driven theft into classrooms, which "makes investigation and apprehension of responsible parties much more likely." The classroom limits the pool of potential suspects, she said.
Jeremiah Wiencek, assistant principal for student services, also said securing the gym lockers has pushed theft into other areas. He did acknowledge, however, that a cellphone was stolen last week from a gym locker. Foran said the offender switched the lock with the victim's lock before taking the phone.
Wiencek said the spike in thefts is "concerning," and staff want to continue to remind students to keep their goods secure. Staff members have been catching students who commit crimes, though, and "hopefully that'll be a deterrent," he said.