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News Release

August 29, 2007

Police report spate of stolen laptops, urge community to take basic steps to protect property

Stanford police are investigating a recent string of burglaries in which thieves entered buildings on campus with relative ease and plucked laptop computers from enclosed offices and open cubicles—prompting a reminder that individuals take the necessary precautions to reduce the chance of becoming a victim.

"It is a safe place to work, but unfortunately, we have a high property-crime rate," said Stanford police Chief Laura Wilson. "It is a very target-rich environment."

On Monday, Aug. 20, seven laptops were taken from the second-floor offices of Land, Buildings and Real Estate. A burglar came in through one of the ground-level entrances of 655 Serra St., sometime between 1:39 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Two of the computers were taken from enclosed offices and the rest were in cubicles—locked down with cables that were then cut, Wilson said.

Police obtained a description of a possible suspect: a white male, early 20s, about 5-foot-7 with blondish hair. Because the theft occurred outside business hours, the incident is considered a burglary. But Wilson said police are still looking into whether the intruder used force to enter the building.

In a separate but possibly related incident, three Apple iMac computers were reported missing later that day from the Escondido Elementary School, at 7:10 p.m. There was no sign of forced entry, according to Deputy Chris Cohendet.

Then on Thursday, Aug. 23, a laptop was reported stolen at 1:45 p.m. from an unlocked office on the fourth floor of the Graduate School of Business. Police spoke to a female employee who said she saw a strange man wandering around and, when she asked if she could help him, he avoided eye contact, "acted shifty" and left soon after, according to Cohendet.

The stranger was described as being a middle-aged African-American with a thin build and short black hair, standing about 5 feet 9 inches tall. The woman who saw him told investigators the victim probably just stepped away for lunch when the crime occurred.

Cohendet said the openness of an academic setting can make workplaces more vulnerable to thefts and intruders, with some buildings remaining unlocked around the clock for faculty, staff, students and other affiliates constantly coming and going.

Cohendet added that, without evidence of a break-in, the pool of possible suspects in a case can grow to include anyone who has access into the building—from regular employees and temps to janitorial staff and contracted construction workers.

But police say there are still basic steps that everyone should take to discourage thieves who might otherwise steal valuables with ease:

  • Lock all doors to offices, buildings and vehicles, as well as windows—especially those located on the first floor of a building. According to police, thefts can occur in a matter of minutes, while someone steps away from their desk or office to use the restroom, make copies or run an errand.
  • Be wary of suspicious people, especially in areas not generally open to the public, and call 911 (or 9-911 from a campus phone) if someone is unfamiliar or behaving strangely.
  • Secure valuables or keep them out of sight, even in the office.
  • And to increase the chance of having stolen property returned, police advise individuals to record serial numbers and descriptions, to have pictures and to report thefts immediately to the Stanford Police if the loss occurred on campus.

    Police are unsure whether the laptops stolen last week were personal or university property. But according to statements given by the victims, none of the computers contained sensitive or confidential information, Wilson said.

    "None of these cases are impossible to solve," Cohendet said. "It's just looking at the pool of potential suspects, looking at who has access to these buildings and going from there."

    On a related note, Stanford police are in the process of modernizing and updating their website, and it now features a link to the "Community Crime Alerts" page on the homepage, at http://police.stanford.edu.

    All non-emergency incidents may be reported by calling 329-2413, and anyone with information about last week's burglaries may call the Department of Public Safety, at 723-9633 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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