By Connor Ryan and Katie Meyer
At Rose Hill, it has perhaps never been a better time to be a Blackberry owner.
Anthony Carl, FCRH ’16, learned that firsthand one night last year when he joined two other students for a late-night walk to University Pizza on Fordham Road, not far from campus.
He was a few paces ahead of his friends, both of whom were busy texting on their iPhones, when a teenager pedaling a bicycle slowly approached the group.
When the teen dismounted his bike and asked the students for their phones, one of Carl’s friends fled. Frustrated, the teen pulled out a gun and Carl’s other friend quickly volunteered his iPhone.
“What kind of phone you got?” Carl recalled the teen asking him. Without taking his Blackberry out of his pocket, he said: “You’re not going to want it. You won’t get more than 55 cents.”
The teen took him at his word, shrugged in agreement and took off on his bike.
Carl took a deep breath, called the police from his — happily untouched — Blackberry and the students reported the incident to Fordham Security.
And while the benefits of the Blackberry are not frequently spoken of around campus, the stories of students getting iPhones stolen this semester have been heard and repeated again and again.
One week after Apple released two new phone models and a software upgrade, the iPhone remains more popular than ever at Rose Hill.
But off campus, where boozy nights and instances of pure oblivion often package themselves into security alert emails, the phone is an easy item to snatch and sell for profit.
So far this year, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 24, 23 security alerts have been sent out to Rose Hill students — 13 of which pertained to iPhone theft. During the same period last year, 13 alerts were sent to students — six of which pertained to iPhone theft.
“It’s been a problem for a number of years, and it has kind of only escalated,” John Carroll, associate vice president of safety and security, said in an interview. “The theft of iPhones has moved up. The rest of the incidents have stayed stagnant, so there really hasn’t been an increase in crime, per se, there’s been an increase in iPhone theft.”
But “apple picking,” a phrase media organizations have coined referring to the theft of iPhones and other Apple products, is not a localized problem.
In 2012, the New York Police Department launched a special smartphone and tablet squad when an increasingly large number of gadgets were reported stolen.
Paul Browne, a former spokesman for the NYPD, said that New York City’s overall crime rate increased by 3 percent in 2012. But, “if you subtracted just the increase in Apple product thefts, we would have had an overall decrease in crime in New York,” Browne told CNN in February.
Carroll concedes that the statistics are a problem, but he said that Fordham students often make themselves easy targets by ignoring their own instincts.
“I really believe we all have a sixth sense,” he said. “I know when I talk to some kids who are victims they’ll tell me or my supervisors, ‘Hey, I know this wasn’t good. I saw these guys on the street and I knew I shouldn’t walk past them, but I did it anyway.’”
Still, Carroll is not panicking. He says the reported crime could be worse.
“Out of 4,000 kids, I’m not saying that anybody getting ripped off of their iPhone is OK, but if it’s one phone or two phones … it’s not like it’s an epidemic or crime wave,” he said.
As phone theft appears to be on the rise, administrators have recently begun a slow upgrade of Rose Hill’s security system. But the two have not been directly linked.
The on-campus security transition is largely represented by new digitally programmed identification cards, which were issued to students this year.
Currently, the cards allow for students to access their respective residence halls. Similar card readers, in the form of two metallic posts, will become operational at each walk-in entrance around campus by June, Carroll confirmed.
The main benefit of the new system is that the microchips of the nearly 900 ID cards that become lost each year can be deactivated and unauthorized persons’ access to campus closed, according to Carroll.
Card readers at the entrance gates will function similarly to those in the residence halls. Students will scan their IDs before entering campus, and their photos will appear on the computer screen in the nearby guard’s booth.
Luke Homer, FCRH ’14, vice president for safety and security for Rose Hill’s United Student Government, maintained that the tap-in system would be quick and convenient. Even the busiest gates, like the one outside Faculty Memorial Hall, would not get backed up between classes, Homer said.
“You just tap it once and that’s all it takes,” he said. “It will be a constant flow.”
As part of the system, Fordham’s security staff is able to keep a digital log of timestamps when students enter residence halls, and soon, when they step onto campus.
The question of whether Rose Hill’s new system could impact students’ privacy seemed to hit a nerve with Carroll.
“Why would Fordham do anything that would not serve our students? Makes no sense,” he said in an email. “It would be a serious disservice to our students to suggest anything negative about upgrading technology that has been designed to better serve the community.”
Jason Benedict, executive director of Fordham’s Information Security Office, said the transition to digital security has been in the planning stages for 10 years, but was not implemented earlier because of a lagging student demand.
“Most recently we found that the student population really wanted it,” Benedict said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen through surveys and our interaction with students that [a new ID system] is something they desired and we’ve tried to put it in as quickly as we could.”
Fordham Road and 189th Street, which runs parallel to Rose Hill’s campus, have been where most iPhone thefts have occurred, according to the alerts that have been sent to students this semester.
Carroll says, ultimately, he wants to keep the Fordham community safe, while still respecting students’ freedom to enjoy the neighborhood.
“I know you don’t want us out there with you,” Carroll said with a laugh. “You never invite us out to party with you or anything like that, but we’re there and we’re only there to help.”