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How to foil thieves on campus

Theft continues to be the most prevalent crime on campus, yet a few simple precautions can cut the risk substantially.

“There are professional thieves, especially during the first couple of weeks of a term,” said Michael Soto, chief of the Campus Public Safety Office. “They know that our students are going to go off to the bookstore to purchase their textbooks.”

From the bookstore, he said, many students will go to the food service to have something to eat. They may leave their backpacks, book bags or open textbooks on a table, ready to study. They often find that if they walk away for a second to get some ketchup or a fork, they come back to find their property missing.

Similar thefts occur frequently in Millar Library.

“If the receipt’s in a textbook, the bookstore buyback will give 100 percent refund. If it doesn’t have the receipt, they will give back 50 percent of the value,” Soto said.

He advocates marking textbooks so they are identifiable. The best way to do this is to write your name at the bottom of certain pages throughout the book.

“Making a note of how you marked it and where you marked it is important,” Soto said.

If a student is a victim of theft, it should be reported immediately to the public safety office. Campus Public Safety works with the bookstore to identify the thief and the book. Depending on circumstances, the student may get the book back without cost if it has been illegally sold back to the bookstore.

Campus safety also has a bicycle registration program online so it has a record in case a bike is stolen. The office also offers engraving, either doing it themselves or lending out the device so the owner can do it.

“One of the biggest problems with bike theft is that people will buy a $1,200 bike and secure it with a $15 cable,” Soto said.

He sees the U-lock-type device as the best theft deterrent. There are also some thicker twisted cables that require the thief to cut through each strand of the cable.

“All these are just deterrents,” he said. “There is no 100 percent guarantee. One of the things we’re focusing on in doing our trainings for offices and departments is what we call challenging,” he said. “If somebody walks into your area, acknowledge them.”

If they’re up to no good, they don’t want to be acknowledged. They want to be ignored, they want to be like a shadow. He advises office workers to greet any unknown person with, “How can I help you?” Even though office workers are busy, that three- to five-second engagement puts the office worker in control of that area.

In his training sessions, Soto frequently – and as light-heartedly as possible – asks female office workers if they habitually keep their purses in the right-hand desk drawer all the way in the back. Or if they keep the petty cash in the upper middle drawer in a folder with an anonymous title written on it.

“It’s always humorous to see how many people are laughing and saying, ‘Yeah, we do that,'” he said. Thieves know of this pattern.

Another invitation for thieves is to close the outer doors to office suites but leave all the interior doors open. Campus Public Safety works with the custodial staff to help ensure that interior doors that do not need to be left open are secured.

The best prevention against vehicle theft is to not leave valuables visible when the owner will be gone for any period of time. Soto advocates putting the valuables in the trunk or leaving them at home.

Thefts sometimes occur when a vehicle or article is left in the same location for an extended period of time without checking on it periodically. A good idea for the owner of a vehicle or bicycle is to move it around. For a bicycle, it’s advisable to set it up in a main thoroughfare and walk past it occasionally. Even if a theft occurs, a frequent walk-by will cut down the timetable when the theft may have occurred and may help in recovering the property or learning the identity of possible suspects.

Soto is working for strong cooperation and information exchange among all members of the campus community and his officer force. He wants to learn how CPSO can help everybody in crime prevention and observation. He likens this to making the eyes and ears of his 14 uniformed officers equal to 17,000 sets of eyes and ears.

A free booklet, “Campus Safety Guide,” which contains the basics of protection against crime on campus, with a special section on theft prevention, can be picked up at their office.

The booklet explains how to report crime and what to do if you’re a victim of crime. It also lists campus crime statistics for the past three years.

Some important tips on property theft: Lock doors and windows, even if you’re going to be gone for just a minute; never prop open a door; store purses and valuables out of sight; record serial numbers and brand names of property.

The booklet also contains specific tips on car protection, holiday security and protecting personal information.

The guide is available online at Hard copies may be obtained by visiting the Campus Public Safety office at 1939 S.W. Broadway. Copies may be mailed on request.

They also produces “Campus Watch,” printed information available on a regular basis to all residents of College Housing Northwest. It can include such extra topics as vacation tips.