After multiple thefts at Ohio State dining facilities were reported over the last academic year, a Student Life spokesman said measures are being taken to prevent more of such incidents from happening.
University Police has arrested at least six people for theft of food at Ohio Union’s Union Market since the beginning of the academic year, according to police records.
The value of the food and beverages customers attempted to steal in these cases totaled more than $40, according to University Police reports.
Theft can take several forms, said Dave Isaacs, spokesman for Student Life.
“Someone may be actively putting food in their pockets and trying to steal it, but we also have a great many cases where someone will be standing in line and eating something that they don’t wind up paying for,” Isaacs said.
The type of food stolen varies too, Isaacs said.
“The vast majority are smaller items, in price and size — the sort of thing you can eat while in line, can easily conceal or walk out with without anyone noticing,” Isaacs said.
When staff members catch customers eating or attempting to conceal food they have not paid for, they are instructed to confront the customer, Isaacs said.
“We approach the person. Many times if a staff member points out, ‘Excuse me, but are you going to pay for that?’ and the student says, ‘Yes I will, no problem,’ they pay and all is well,” Isaacs said.
However, further measures need to be taken in some cases, Isaacs said.
“There are other instances where people are repeat offenders, or make an obvious effort to conceal that they’ve taken something. We’ve involved OSU Police and Student Conduct on these cases,” Isaacs said.
According to the OSU Code of Student Conduct, any student found to have engaged or attempted to engage in theft is subject to disciplinary action by the university.
Kelsey Reiner, a second-year in English and employee at the Union Market, has noticed some items are more likely to be stolen, noting that pretzels are a common target for thieves.
“The biggest problem we have here is people eating the (soft) pretzels, or something else like that that doesn’t have a sticker that they can just eat while they’re in line and then crumble the trash up and put in their pockets,” Reiner said, though she added she’s never personally dealt with someone stealing.
A “large pretzel” was among the items stolen in two instances at the Union Market this year, according to University Police records. Reiner said those pretzels cost $2.50.
Issues arise with salads sometimes as well, Reiner said.
“People eat off of their salads and since those are weighed for cost, that affects the price,” Reiner said.
Isaacs said it is hard to pinpoint exact figures on how much food is stolen and the resulting effect on prices.
“There just isn’t the kind of tracking that’s going to let us say (those numbers) … But any time you have theft, your customers wind up ultimately paying for that. That’s true in food service, retail operation and any kind of business. Ultimately, costs get passed to consumers,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said students aren’t the only perpetrators of food theft, as people unaffiliated with OSU steal as well.
Three of the at least six people arrested this year for stealing or attempting to steal food at Union Market were not affiliated with the university, according to University Police records.
Increased security measures have been taken to reduce theft, Isaacs said.
“For the most part we use building security and where there are particular problems, we have assigned Student Life members to be especially on the lookout,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said new theft prevention initiatives are in the works.
“We have a program, Student Ambassadors. This is still in the developmental stage, so we haven’t actively moved this forward, but these would be students whose focus would be customer service and customer care (in the dining facilities) … They could be helpful in being vigilant with theft,” Isaacs said.
Jovana Vladicic, a first-year in biology, said she doesn’t understand why other students would steal.
“It seems kind of dumb. If you have blocks with the meal plan, you don’t need to steal food,” Vladicic said.
A meal plan with 350 blocks and $150 BuckID cash costs $1,875 per semester, while a plan with 450 blocks and $150 BuckID cash costs $2,275.
Vladicic said while she has never seen someone stealing, she could easily see it happening in the Union Market. She said it’s “smart” the entrance is a one-way in Marketplace on South Campus, which is set up similarly to Union Market, so students cannot exit the food area without passing cashiers.