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By Megan Dooley
Oak Park police have now linked nine scientific calculators found last week in a Harrison Street apartment drug bust to merchandise reported stolen from students at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
The investigation continues into finding the owners of hundreds of calculators, cell phones, and iPods recovered from the scene of an Aug. 4 drug bust that ended with the arrest of an OPRF student on felony charges including unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Two male adults were also arrested and face lesser charges.
According to the Oak Park police, nine of those calculators have been identified as property of OPRF students. Only five had been reported stolen. The rest were identified through other means. The police said tracking down the owners of the remaining items – 148 calculators, 4 iPhones, 25 cell phones and 29 iPods – will likely take some time.
In addition to the confiscated electronics, 28.7 grams of cocaine and 134.4 grams of cannabis were found at the scene at an apartment on the first block of Harrison. Also found were a handgun with ammunition and approximately $1,000 in cash.
Pawel Borowski-Beszta, 17, of the 800 block of Woodbine, was arrested for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a park, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, unlawful possession of cannabis, and aggravated use of a weapon. All are felony charges.
It remains unclear whether Borowski-Beszta came into possession of the electronics by theft, or if the owners of the items used them as collateral for a debt, or as payment for drugs.
Oak Park Township Youth Services Director John Williams said he's not familiar with the details of this particular case, but that in general, it would not be uncommon for a drug-addicted person to pawn off an item of value in exchange for drugs.
"Addicts think differently," he said. For instance, Williams said, as a young person becomes more and more involved with drugs, they might turn to any items of value that they have to support the habit. An iPhone, iPod, or scientific calculator might be used to pay for drugs, and then possibly reported lost or stolen by the owner.
"Selling or trading things that are your own, suddenly can become within the range of your behavior," Williams said, of addicted drug users.
Or the drug user might begin stealing these small electronics from others to use in exchange for drugs. According to police, the electronics do have resale value on the street.
Police Chief Rick Tanksley said Monday that police are not notified about all reports of theft at the high school. Unless a student approaches the school's student resource officer who is an Oak Park police officer to report a theft, or files a police report directly with the department, the theft remains internal to the school if reported at all.
"We need to encourage individuals to report crime, report thefts. That puts us in a better position to know the extent of a particular problem," Tanksley said. "If crime is occurring in a certain area of town, or building, we can start addressing that. But we can't address it if we don't know it."
Tanksley also said it is important to mark one's property, and keep a record of serial numbers for valuable items. That way, when property is recovered, it can be identified and returned to its rightful owner.
"It also aids us in prosecution," Tanksley said. "Having a piece of property which one could logically assume was stolen, but not being able to tie that to a victim, we cannot charge anybody with that."
High school officials, meanwhile, said thefts are reported by students to safety and support staff, who investigate those cases. As of last Friday, the school had not been notified by police about any of the stolen items in the recent drug raid belonging to students. According to school officials, thefts are among the most time-consuming infractions handled by discipline deans.
The most recent discipline data available for the 2010-2011 school year shows that there were 14 reported incidents of theft or possession of stolen property that year. A student can report a theft to the School Resource Officer, who's also an Oak Park police officer, but the high school doesn't automatically call the police themselves. A parent or student can call police directly to report a stolen item, said Kay Foran, the high school's spokesperson.
Jacques Conway, a former Oak Park police officer, school SRO and OPRF school board member, told Wednesday Journal the school has always taken theft incidents seriously. During his time there in the 1990s, Conway said once a student fills out an incident report the investigation can involve viewing security cameras and talking to students. But typically, the student would be asked to retrace his or her steps because sometimes items can be misplaced.
Conway added that students sometimes share lockers with their friends, leaving their phones or other items in that locker but one of the students may forget to lock it. And there are those rare occasions where a student might falsify a report, Conway said.
"They may leave their phone somewhere, sell or even give it away because they know their mom and dad will replace it. They're looking for something new—new shoes or a new phone—and this is their way of getting it."
The high school will also return a students' item if staff are able to determine who it belongs to, Conway said.