This year’s crop of freshmen has unusually sticky fingers.

Over the past week and a half 14 freshmen have been caught attempting to steal items from the UCSB Bookstore. The items range from textbooks and mechanical pencils to guitar strings. In previous years, only three or four freshmen were caught trying to swindle items from the bookstore.

“This is just crazy,” Will Wood, UCSB Bookstore technical service manager, said. “We’ve never seen this [before].”

Wood is a former police officer with the Santa Barbara Police Dept. but retired when he sustained a back injury while arresting a suspect in an unrelated case. He now oversees the security camera system that protects the bookstore from theft.

Young blood looking for five-finger discounts will soon find that it is not that easy to slip past Wood’s watchful eye and the more than 50 cameras in the bookstore. In addition to those found in the bookstore, there are about 30 other cameras that oversee the Corner Store, Ortega Dining Commons, the Arbor and the Buchanan corner store.

“We try to make it a safe center as well as protect the assets of the university,” he said concerning security in the UCen.

The control center, where student employees watch for suspicious activity on monitors, is located below the UCen. In the dimly lit room, Garrett Adler, a fifth-year electrical engineering major, works the camera controls and stares at a monitor. He said it doesn’t feel strange, monitoring his peers.

“It’s almost like a video game, and my objective is to catch people,” Adler said.

When a customer is spotted trying to flee the bookstore with their booty, student monitors go in teams of two and confront the perpetrator.

“We’re up front with them,” Wood said.

He said he prefers to give students warnings rather than calling the UC Police Department to have them arrested because students do not realize the consequences of theft and how it will affect their futures.

“What are the chances that a company will hire someone with misdemeanor theft [on their record], let alone felony [theft]?” he said.

After the bookstore has warned or had UCPD arrest a student who is caught stealing, the university may decide to step in with further disciplinary measures, including expulsion from UCSB.

“They don’t realize what’s going to happen to them,” Wood said.

The degree of punishment varies with the worth of the goods stolen, and not all campus thieves think small. One of the 14 freshmen caught stealing from the bookstore this year tried to walk out with more than $430 in textbooks for class, Wood said.

“He didn’t want to pay for them,” he said.

But it is not just freshmen who steal from the bookstore. Last March, Ventura resident and bicycle mechanic Ryan Coyle walked out with a $1,800 Apple iBook laptop, Wood said. He eluded capture by riding off on a high-speed road bicycle – all the way to his home in Ventura.

“He looked like a cyclist,” Wood told the Daily Nexus last March. “He had very defined calves, and he was wearing clip-on bicycle shoes and tight cycling shorts.”

Wood said security cameras in a Sears department store on State Street recorded Coyle shoplifting again in May, this time stealing a full computer tower. The SBPD bulletin reported that store security instructed Coyle to stop, but he jumped onto his bicycle and sped away. Wood said he rode all the way to Ventura, again.

When SBPD finally tracked down Coyle and issued a search warrant at his residence, Wood said, the laptop from the UCSB Bookstore and the computer tower from Sears were found in his house. Wood said Coyle had stolen the computer equipment to use for a photography class he was taking.

“He had a bunch of his photography stuff on [the laptop] and it was all shit. At least he has nice legs,” he said.

The SBPD could not be contacted for comment.