NEWS

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October 31, 2003

Officer spotlights theft in the Reg

Around midterms and finals each quarter, when the University's libraries are mostly full, officer Jocathy Roberts takes a tour of the Regenstein. She's looking for things to steal.

Dressed in uniform, her radio turned down to just a whisper, she makes her way up to the fifth floor and begins methodically searching the library. She checks window seats and cubicles, popping into the isolated rooms. She goes through the stacks in search of students off their guard and carelessly treated property.

Without fail, Roberts finds abandoned laptops, forsaken jackets, backpacks, and purses waiting idly for their owners to return. She spots dozing students with wallets hanging from their pockets, sometimes with cash exposed.

"I'm prowling around, and students don't even know what's going on because they are so engrossed in what they are doing," Roberts said.

Fortunately for students, Roberts only marks her visit with a little note, leaving it on the goods left for the picking. As careless students who spend a lot of time in the Regenstein have come to know, returning to a cubicle to find one of Roberts's red cards is a bit of an awakening. Especially since the cards read "Gotcha."

Roberts is the University's only crime prevention officer. Her job is to make students aware of their surroundings and to develop an environment in which it is as difficult to commit crime as possible.

Students have a tendency to grow careless in an environment they are used to, according to Roberts. "If it's hard to get into the Reg and yet things keep getting stolen, then what does that tell you?" she said. "Theft is a crime of opportunity, and sometimes it comes from inside. The library should be considered a safe place, but students should still be careful."

It might sound as if Roberts is being paranoid about the possibility of theft in the library and that perhaps her services could be better used elsewhere. But if the success of her previous work is any indicator of her ability to curtail theft on campus, then she should be given free reign in the Reg.

A few years ago, Roberts began what she calls the "stop tag initiative" here in Hyde Park. Stop tags look like stickers, and they attach to laptops just as easily, but they are much harder to remove.

It takes 800 pounds of pressure to remove the activating gel used by the tags. They have barcodes, allowing for the laptops to which they are attached to be tracked all over the country.

"If a thief has a choice between stealing a laptop with these tags or one without, it's pretty clear what he's going to do," Roberts said. "Since we began the stop tag initiative computer theft has gone down almost 98 percent. I have never run across someone who has had stop tags attached to their laptop report that it has been stolen."

Roberts thinks that Hyde Park is generally a safe place. However, she stresses that this is not a gated community.

Kathleen Meil, a third-year, criticized the "gotcha" cards, saying that University Police should be spending its resources on more important matters. "The UCPD should be out protecting me, not bothering me for being 10 feet away from my stuff," Meil said.

But there are some who think that Roberts's work is very valuable. Kevin Casey, who has been working the Hyde Park beat as a UCPD patrolman for 10 years, described Roberts's work in terms of a partnership.

"People with knowledge of what's going on, and the dangers out there, help themselves, and that helps us," Casey said. "It decreases the amount of petty crime and helps us concentrate on the more serious crimes."

10-31-03officerroberts