The many golf carts seen zooming across campus belong to a variety of departments that use the carts for easy access around the maze that is USF’s campus.
Due to a rash of golf cart thefts, the University was prompted to outfit each golf cart with a sticker describing the punishment for theft. At first, many of the golf cart thefts around campus were simply for joy rides; thieves would take the cart from one side of campus and then dump it when they were done. Some carts were abandoned at the top of parking garages after being run into walls.
What began as a simple problem then escalated. On Nov. 15, USF student Nicole Cook was walking to her car following class around 7 p.m. As she passed the chemistry building, a man driving a golf cart passed her, snatching her purse in the process. Cook gave chase, nearly catching the thief, but the thief jumped out of the cart and fled in a getaway car. The suspect has not been apprehended, but Cook has been in contact with University Police for follow-up purposes.
According to the stickers, theft of a golf cart is the equivalent of stealing a car, which is a felony. Sentences for auto theft can range from probation to up to a year in prison.
“I don’t feel that golf carts are secured on campus,” Cook said. “I contacted Student Government to discuss the situation, (and) they said they would try to figure out a plan. My suggestion was as simple as putting a chain and lock connecting all the golf carts not used after hours. I think any extra security would be too much work for someone to steal the carts.”UP suggests that every department on campus secure its golf carts with chains or some other locking device. According to UP Sgt. Frank Wassenberg, some departments either fail to lock up the carts or don’t have the devices to do so.
“We recommend to all departments to chain up the carts or secure them some way,” Wassenberg said. “The problem is that the message doesn’t always get through.”
One of the main reasons why Cook is concerned is because purse theft may be the tip of the iceberg of golf cart crime.
“If that was a rapist asking a girl if she needed a ride to her car, who knows what would have happened?” Cook said in a November interview.
Golf cart theft on campus has been an ongoing problem for some time. While the larceny of Cook’s purse is not the direct reason for the stickers, Wassenberg hopes that the stickers are deterring potential joyriders and thieves.
“The reason for the stickers is because golf cart theft has been an ongoing problem,” Wassenberg said. “It may thwart someone who is looking to go for a joyride. When a department reports one being stolen, nine times out of 10 we recover the carts.”
Many of the golf carts used on the USF campus are older models. According to Wassenberg, one of the reasons for the amount of theft is the similarity between keys that start the carts.
“Unfortunately, most of the keys for golf carts work in every golf cart,” Wassenberg said. “Ninety percent of the golf carts work with the same key.”
While the golf cart purse snatching may have been an isolated incident, Cook feels that stickers might not be enough to solve the problem.
“I personally didn’t know about the stickers,” Cook said. “I don’t think anyone who is going to steal a golf cart cares about the penalties or is willing to take the time to read the sticker.”