A recent wave of laptop thefts from campus buildings may have been perpetrated by a band of clean-cut people who resemble students, campus police say.
“People don’t suspect them because the perpetrators successfully meld into our student population,” said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety.
About 22 laptops were stolen from campus property in September and October. DPS is investigating the thefts but has not named any suspects.
The University is offering $500 dollars for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
According to DPS statistics, laptop thefts on campus have increased drastically compared with the same timeframe during the previous year. This September, 15 laptops were reported stolen. Only one was stolen during the same month last year.
According to DPS briefings, thieves stole seven more laptops in October.
The main scenes of the crimes – the Hatcher Graduate Library and the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, both common study areas for students – were the location of 11 of the thefts in September and three in October.
Many of the thefts could have been avoided, Brown said. They usually occur when students leave their laptops in a study area to field a phone call or use the restroom.
DPS has increased patrols in the libraries to combat the problem, Brown said.
The libraries are tackling the issue through education, said Stephen Hipkiss, University Libraries facilities manager. Blue signs with crime information have been placed strategically around the libraries to remind students of the risk involved in leaving their belongings unattended.
But Brown said the tactic does not always work. One stolen laptop, she said, was left unattended next to one of the cautionary blue signs.
Library staff members have also begun to approach students who leave their items behind, but Hipkiss said the library staff can only patrol limited ground. For example, the majority of thefts happen in the stacks, where supervision is scarce.
Even with the informational campaign and increased patrols, students still are not completely absorbing the message. A quick walk through the Graduate Library revealed two laptops left unattended in the densely occupied reading room.
There was also a wave last winter of similar laptop thefts, Hipkiss said. After DPS made arrests, the thefts stopped almost overnight, only to reemerge this September.
Laptop thefts have also been occurring outside of the libraries, especially in on-campus housing.
DPS has reported four laptop burglaries this month in its daily briefings.
One was recovered when a freshman awoke to two men in his dorm room trying to steal his laptop. The confrontation culminated with the student recovering his laptop after a foot chase through the wooded area outside of Bursley Residence Hall.
The other laptop burglaries occurred in Bursley, Baits and Northwood Apartments, where people left their laptops out on a desk with their doors unlocked or open, Brown said.
“It would be wise to put one’s laptop away so it is not visible, like (in) a locked desk drawer – certainly somewhere out of obvious sight,” Brown said.
She suggested not opening doors to the residence halls for strangers, even if it is impolite.
“It’s hard to criticize letting people in, but the flipside is that we’re letting people in who perpetrate these crimes,” Brown said.