BYU student Wesley Bowen pulled his truck into his assigned spot below his apartment complex in 2015. It was a hot summer night, so Bowen locked the doors to his vehicle but left the driver’s side window slightly cracked.
At 6 a.m., Bowen went downstairs to find his truck missing.
“It was just gone,” Bowen said. “I freaked out. I walked two blocks in every direction to make sure I wasn’t crazy and hadn’t parked it somewhere else the night before.”
After searching for his car for nearly half an hour, Bowen called the police to report his vehicle stolen. The vehicle was later recovered.
Bowen is not the only BYU student who has been a victim of theft.
BYU senior Chris Nielson’s bike was stolen over the summer. Nielson had parked his bike inside the parking garage of the Life Sciences Building.
Nielson said although his bike lock was hooked around his bike, he did not lock it.
“There are cameras everywhere around the Life Sciences Building, so I thought, ‘Eh, I’ll be back in a couple hours,'” Nielson said. “Definitely learned a lesson that way.”
Nielson found his bike a few months later. He and his wife were walking past the Harold B. Lee Library when they spotted his bike locked to a rack near the David M. Kennedy Center with his lock. They called University Police to report it. Nielson proved the bike was his, and he was able to take it home.
Theft is the most frequently reported crime at BYU, according to the university’s 2016 Clery Act Campus Security Report, yet BYU continues to be one of the safest campuses in the United States.
General “theft” can include a wide range of crimes.
University Police officer Carlos Acosta said reporting campus theft numbers accurately isn’t possible.
“Some of these ‘crimes’ aren’t really that at all,” Acosta said. “You get people that report a stolen backpack, and then the next day it’s turned in at the Wilkinson Student Center Lost and Found.”
Because of this, the Clery Act mandates that only specific types of theft are reported, such as burglary or motor vehicle theft, according to University Police officer Terry Fox.
Despite the frequency of theft at BYU compared to other crimes, BYU’s crime rates are low when compared to those at other Utah colleges.
For example, there were 60 reported burglaries at the University of Utah in 2015, according to its 2016 Clery Report. Two burglaries were reported at both UVU and Utah State University in the same year, according to their respective 2016 Clery Reports.
In contrast, BYU had no reported burglaries in 2015.
A reputation for safety
Nielson said although his bike was stolen, he still doesn’t worry too much about other possessions being stolen.
“I’m still not really paranoid,” Nielson said. “Maybe I should be, but I feel safe at BYU.”
Business Insider listed BYU as one of the top 25 safest schools in the United States, attributing its safety to the Honor Code standard for BYU students to be “totally honest” in their dealings with others.
The article states “Students at Mormon-based BYU hold themselves to a high standard of honesty and trust . . . creating a safe and comfortable campus.”
But despite the Honor Code, theft continues to occur at BYU.
According to BYU philosophy professor Darin Crawford Gates, one reason the problem persists is that students may rationalize such behavior.
“We can become quite good at convincing ourselves that what we are doing is not really wrong, is not our fault or is justified by a more important consideration,” Gates said.
BYU philosophy professor David Jensen believes it is due to human nature.
“It is difficult to be a good person,” Jensen said. “Even people who are committed to living by a moral standard, or an honor code — as with BYU students — we still find ourselves tempted, distracted, overcome by moments of weakness and so forth.”
Jensen also said no code of conduct guarantees behavior.
“When critics say with amazement or disbelief, ‘BYU students have an honor code, and yet one of them did this or that in violation of that honor code,’ they are missing the point,” Jensen said. “(It is not) hypocrisy to advocate a standard and yet fall short of it — that’s just part of being human.”