Life for Penn thieves has been rough these past few years. Since the Division of Public Safety implemented a program called Operation Theft Awareness in 2010, unattended thefts have gone down by over 30 percent.
The program educates students, faculty and staff about the dangers of unattended theft.
“We were seeing an uptick in people’s property, mostly technology … being stolen,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. Most thefts occurred in coffee shops, Van Pelt Library or near the hospitals — both Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Thefts were “mostly technology — computers — but also pocketbooks occasionally with wallets,” Rush said. “So we decided to create a campaign."
The campaign began with posters in every building, paper tents on tables at Cosi and Starbucks and emails sent out to building administrators.
DPS collaborated with the Undergraduate Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly to spread awareness about the program and the dangers of unattended theft.
To try to combat this problem, DPS created a service for students to register their belongings via the Campus Express website. DPS encourages students to register anything of value on Campus Express. Rush noted that one student even registered her ballet slippers.
Registering valuables via Campus Express helps to increase the chances of the property being recovered. “Let’s say we find somebody who appears to have stolen a laptop, we would be able to discern if the individual is the owner of the laptop or not by running [it] through registration,” Rush said. If found not to be the owner, the person could be arrested for theft.
In 2010, prior to the implementation of the program, there were 264 unattended thefts reported. This number dropped to 179 in 2015.
DPS focuses a significant part of the campaign on Van Pelt. Officers walk around the building, watch students walk away from their laptops and then explain to the students the dangers of leaving their laptops unattended.
The officers also stress the importance of backing up computers so that students do not lose papers and assignments if their computers are stolen.
To further protect Penn students, DPS was able to limit the number of hours unaffiliated people could use the library. This way, if a theft was reported, DPS could match up which Penn-affiliated people were in the library at the time of the theft by looking up when they swiped in with their PennCard.
Before the initiative, students, faculty and unaffiliated people signed up and showed their IDs, but this information was not recorded in a database. With the implementation of the program, Penn purchased a Visitors’ Management System to record this information.
In 2011, prior to the implementation of the program, there were 21 thefts in Van Pelt. This number dropped to four thefts in the library in 2015.
A 2012 Daily Pennsylvanian article noted that the total cost of the new security system for Van Pelt and the School of Nursing was $455,000.
Over this time period, DPS has also observed an overall decrease in crime. Previously, property crime constituted a large percentage of the overall crime rate. As a result of the program and the decrease in unattended theft, the overall crime rate was able to drop.
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