For a college student, getting one’s laptop stolen could result in losing much more than just the value listed on the price tag, said Rajendra Singh, lead security guard at Shields Library.
In an attempt to prevent students from falling victim to its recent wave of laptop thefts, Singh and the staff at Peter J. Shields Library are hoping to raise awareness about ways to discourage would-be criminals. Members of security insist that much of the responsibility of safeguarding their belongings lies with the students.
“We’re here to watch over the students,” Singh said. “And I know this library like the back of my hand, but it’s a huge place [which makes it] hard to patrol all of it very frequently. Students need to make sure they keep their possessions with them at all times.”
However that may not always be the case, Singh said. He insists that most students leave purses, cell phones and laptops unattended for periods of time ranging from five minutes to as much as half an hour. Singh recalls one student leaving an iPhone, a laptop and a wallet at a table, and then departing the premises for the next six hours. Upon returning, the items were gone.
Within the last five months, instances such as these have become more and more common. Based on statistics provided by the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD), there were 29 cases of reported laptop theft with 30 computers stolen this past fall quarter. From January of this year until present, 31 total laptop thefts have been reported, 40 percent of which occurred at Shields Library.
“It’s not uncommon to see a rise in this particular type of crime,” said Lt. Matthew Carmichael of the UCDPD. “In fact, in a small town like Davis, property theft is our most recurrent crime.”
Carmichael cited a number of factors that he believed might be contributing to the recent rash of cases of larceny, including the university being public domain, which results in an environment with a greater flow of individuals, as well as a trend of students leaving their belongings unattended.
He also suggested that those committing the crime might be unaware of its potential consequences. The theft of goods worth more than $400 considered grand theft is considered a felony.
But, according to Marianne Hawkins, head of circulation services, the monetary value of the laptop is superseded by its personal value to the student.
“Students have their lives stored on these devices,” she said. “Research, photos, memories…and [oftentimes] none of it backed up. It makes us feel like crying when we see the victims realize what they’ve lost.”
The library plans to add more signs informing students of danger, as well as engaging students in one-on-one education about the threat posed to them.
But with 300,000 square feet to cover and one guard on disability, library security find themselves shorthanded and with occasional gaps in security patrols. Nevertheless, Singh insists that it is only a matter of time before the culprit is caught. He believes that the wrongdoer is not a student though may appear to be one, adding that he or she is likely the only individual committing the crime, rather than a number of thieves.
Carmichael expressed an interest in reinstating “sting operations” in which members of the UCDPD would plant department-owned laptops throughout the library and then set up surveillance of the property.
“If someone knowingly takes what does not belong to them and leaves the building, then we’ll catch them,” Carmichael said. “It’s worked in the past and, if necessary, we can [bring it back] in a moment’s notice.”
In the meantime, Singh intends to do everything he can to ensure the safety of the library’s patrons, hopefully discovering who is responsible for the thefts in the process.
“Someone is targeting the students [who are] trying to study and get their educations in this library,” he said. “I’ll stand by any computer I see left alone and guard it until the owner returns if I have to.”
KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.