Campus Theft Prompts Examination of School Security


“It’s unfortunate, unacceptable, it’s illegal, It’s disrespectful, and it’s not who we are.” Weeks after the initial assembly announcement on February 1, Head of School Dr. Bynum condemns on-campus theft and places renewed focus on campus security in the wake of the November Ingraham shooting and recent spike in stealing.

On January 30, the administration received word from the kitchen staff that 30 bags of candy had gone missing during the day. For Upper School Assistant Director Mr. Bonar and the administration, the sheer amount of items missing signaled that this wasn’t an accident. Not long after Mr. Bonar and Upper School Assistant Director Ms. Suttell started planning an announcement condemning the stealing, a student reported that some of his property had gone missing from the boys’ locker room. Two days later, Mr. Bonar and Ms. Suttell presented their announcement as well as the potential consequences of student theft, including expulsion. After the announcement, three other students approached Mr. Bonar with concerns that someone had stolen money out of their backpacks. 

In conjunction with the four instances of theft reported to Mr. Bonar, 39% of Tatler poll respondents claimed they were a victim or knew a victim of student theft, and 16 students reported specific examples. Items stolen reportedly include money, Airpods, food, clothes, and Pokemon cards. In one instance, Connor K. ’24 left his expensive pre-workout supplements sitting out in the locker room. When he returned a period later, it was gone: “It’s one thing to just use it, but to take it completely is f*****,” he wrote. As for who’s responsible, many students blame freshmen. “It might be worth mentioning that literally every single person, across all four grades, that I’ve talked to about it thinks it’s freshmen,” says one anonymous poll respondee. 

I want people to not steal because that’s not the kind of community that we want to live in.

Mr. Bonar urges students to avoid scapegoating the underclassmen. “It’s easy to say that, ‘Oh, if this didn’t happen last year, but it happened this year then it’s probably all the new students.’ But that’s not necessarily true,” he says, warning that these conversations can lead to bias about who might be responsible. “It’s very dangerous to start assuming things without any information,” he says.

These events, coupled with an all-school email about bathroom and locker room vandalism sent just 11 days before the announcement, formed a disturbing pattern. According to Ms. Suttell’s report, “someone has damaged the urinals in the bathrooms and locker room in the AAC so that they spray water when flushed.” In response to the incident, she threatened to close the affected spaces indefinitely if the vandalism didn’t stop. 

The administration has not identified anyone responsible for these incidents, but Mr. Bonar assumes that Lakeside students are responsible for each of them, as opposed to students from other schools, given the timeline, locations, and frequency of the reported thefts. Still, the administration is exploring both possibilities. 

Security has been a top priority for Dr. Bynum since the start of his tenure. This past September, a newly-formed Security Task Force comprised of the heads of school, a representative from the Board of Trustees and faculty/staff representatives began preparing to engage in an all-school security audit. 

Dr. Bynum and the administration were considering campus security even before the Ingraham shooting that left one student dead and the ensuing Lakeside lockdown. “Ingraham brought the reality of it to our doorstep, to be quite honest, and it showed that there’s no telling when, where, or how something like this is going to happen.”

The task force began approaching the issue from three perspectives: personnel, policy, and grounds, determining that the key to improving all three laid in a security expert hire. Lakeside is now committed to hiring a Director of Community Safety to oversee the Upper School, Middle School, and Downtown School as soon as possible. 

Additionally, the recent evaluation of lockdown procedures and lockdown drills has demonstrated the administration’s commitment to improving their emergency procedures. Sound systems, as well as email and text alerts, were the focus of last month’s drill. Above all, says Dr. Bynum, the community needs more drill practice to eliminate potential anxiety and enable community members to act quickly if an emergency situation arises again. 

39% of Tatler poll respondents claimed they were a victim or knew a victim of student theft, and 16 students reported specific examples.

The administration is awaiting the hire of the Director of Community Safety to determine whether systems such as surveillance cameras or door lock systems should be implemented: “The key is looking at where we are as a community, what we want as our culture and how we can marry campus safety with the Lakeside culture,” says Dr. Bynum. Although cameras in sensitive areas such as locker rooms would never be implemented, Dr. Bynum says, “I’ve been on campus with cameras before. I’m not afraid of that. I’m not saying that’s what we’re going to do, but it’s not a dramatic thing, given what other schools have already done.” 

Mr. Bonar emphasizes the role that students can play in combating on-campus theft: “We can sit here as adults, and we can say please shape up and please follow the rules,” he says, but “it’s always better when these cultural changes come from the students,” especially from upperclassmen.  

Although she’s open to surveillance and other security measures, Ms. Suttell doesn’t think they fully address the larger issue. “I don’t want someone to not steal because there’s a camera and they’re worried they’re gonna get caught, right?” she says. “I want people to not steal because that’s not the kind of community that we want to live in.”

Until the administration makes any concrete changes, Mr. Bonar and Ms. Suttell urge students to lock up their belongings. “The thing that is a little frustrating for me personally, is that we have all these lockers. And it seems like they’re not really being used here,” says Mr. Bonar. “The best way to take care of valuables is to lock them up.” Ms. Suttell adds, “I think in any community, it’s good to not do things that sort of invite people to make poor choices,” like leaving laptops or wallets in plain view. “I think we want to trust people, and we also want to help people make good choices. There’s a balance there.”


Update: On March 7, Dr. Bynum announced the hiring of David Buerger, Lakeside’s new Director of Community Safety. Starting March 20, he will supervise community safety on all Lakeside campuses. Mr. Buerger has previous experience with campus safety and security at the Bullis School outside of Washington D.C., and has been managing safety and security at the Museum of Flight since 2021.