Thefts in hostels: who is responsible?

BY CALEB BAMWESIGA AND ESTHER BYOONA
Emmanuel Balemezi, a fourth-year law student woke up very early to go for one of his examination papers last semester. But when he returned to his hostel, 818 Courts, after Total in Kauga Mukono Central Division, he couldn’t find his laptop in the room where he had left it.

Balenzi had locked the room and it was still locked. 

“I wondered how the laptop could have gone missing because it was impossible for someone to have entered my room through the window.  The hostel was built in a unique way that the windows can’t be used to access the room,” Balemezi says.

When he moved his eyes around the room and  couldn’t see the  laptop, he nearly fainted. His heart started throbbing with fear of the thought of realising that his laptop was missing. But what was shocking, he said, was that the position of the window was adjacent to the custodian’s office .

“I was then convinced that someone could have used the custodian’s office to enter into my room,” he says.  

Balenzi told The Standard that his intuition told him that it could have been the custodian who stole his laptop because he was the only one with the spare keys to his room. He tried calling the owner of the hostel to explain what had happened but he was not picking. 

Luckily after three days, the owner of hostel came by with the custodian and Balenzi reported the incident to him. He says he was not helped.  

Having failed to get help, Balenzi reported the matter to the university administration. 

The university police later picked the custodian after several attempts of trying to reach him, in vain. As Balenzi said he was sure he would not succeed in recovering his laptop since he had no tangible evidence pinning down the custodian. “The hostel had no CCTV cameras to help out,” he says.  

“During that time, I had talked to my colleagues at the hostel about the incident and one of them confessed that she found the same custodian in her room at 3:ooam when she was from the bar. The custodian told her that he was fixing the sink late in the night? She told the hostel owner about it and nothing was done,” he said.

When Balenzi failed to pin the custodian, he lost interest in the case and left the university for his internship. The case later died. 

Theft of students property is a common problem in both private hostels and the university’s halls of residence. 

One of the students residing in Nsibambi Hall recalls going to class last semester for an hour’s lecture only to return when her laptop was also missing.

“I reported the incident to the custodian and at the Police, which recorded my case. They gave me a case reference number. My roommates were interrogated and one of them was the most likely suspect, but since he refused to admit his crime, the case died. I also went to the Directorate of Students Affairs to apply to leave the university halls of residence because of the insecurity, but the move was not fruitful,” he said.

Explaining why the suspect escaped justice, the victim told The Standard that the suspect was bailed out by one of the administrators. However, the university investigator, Moses Mayanja, explained that many times students are negligent. “They leave their laptops in their rooms unattended. For example, one will leave a laptop charging and go to the shower when the room is open with no one inside,” he says. 

He added that some students go to his office to complain about the missing laptops without their serial numbers to help in tracking them. “When they say that the stolen laptop belongs to their mother and you ask them to go home or call to get the serial number, they give up,” he said.

Mayanja also revealed that most stolen gadgets are the laptops and mobile phones. “At least five phones go missing every day from the university halls of residences,” he says.

“You can’t leave your phone or laptop charging, go to shower and come back. The rooms have wardrobes with lockers. It takes extra effort for someone to break into your wardrobe. If someone broke into the wardrobes, it’s easy to investigate and catch them using their finger prints,” Mayanja said.

He blamed the negligence on students who don’t go for orientation and security clinics organised by the university. 

“During the security clinics, students are given tips on how to keep their gadgets safe. Nobody is there to take care of your gadget,” he said.

He also revealed that theft cases usually happen towards the end of the semester when some students know that they are not coming back to halls of residence. “But as the university, we are concerned about the security of students. That’s why we put cameras at the entrance of the halls of residence. There are no cameras in corridors because students want their privacy. We have also investigated and found a scenario where a complainant sold his laptop and had nothing to tell his parents so he reported that it had been stolen,” Mayanja said.

The warden for Nsibambi Hall, Rev Simon Peter Ddamba, told The Standard that there are tricksters among students who dupe their colleagues before stealing their property. “For example, someone enters other students’ rooms to ask for toilet paper. If you are reasonable enough, you can tell that he is a thief because you don’t sell toilet papers,” he said. “Usually it’s the intruders that get into the rooms and confuse.”

Emmanuel Bahulire, the O/C of the University Police Station, noted that at the start and end of the semester seven to 10 cases of laptop thefts are reported every month. “Students should be security cautious. Don’t rely on the security guards because they don’t know what’s going on in your rooms. They are stationed at the entrance not in your rooms,” Bahulire said.