UTPD program to target laptop thefts

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Chances of recovering stolen laptops may increase this year with the launch of a new UT program designed to lead campus law enforcement to the perpetrator.

Larry Bloom, a UT System police inspector, said he first noticed laptops were among the highest number of reported stolen items across the nine UT affiliated schools last October. Bloom said he is working on a plan in which UT students can install tracking software on their computers as an extra precaution against theft and hopes to unveil it this fall.

At the moment, Bloom said he is working on finding the right software company for this service at the most affordable level.

More than 200 laptop thefts were reported to campus police at UT System schools between January and November last year, Bloom said, and the UT Police Department received 68 reports of stolen laptops last year.

Bloom said he has a background in surveillance and used to track suspect vehicles before he came to work for UT last year. Should the program be offered, UTPD will work with the company tracking the device to recover it. He said he did an impromptu survey on campus last year and asked about 20 students if they felt laptop theft was a problem and if they would be interested in a tracking software.

According to his survey many students said their laptops had cost between $200 and $1,500 and affirmed they would be interested in purchasing the software.

“No matter how good I think a program could be, if the students don’t think it has value it’s not any good,” Bloom said.

Individuals caught stealing can face anything from a Class C misdemeanor, which results from stealing an item valued at less than $20, to a Class A misdemeanor for stealing an item valued at $500 or more. Class A charges will result in a fine and one year jail time.

Bloom said one of the challenges with this service is figuring out how to promote it to students and parents. In addition, the plan would involve a service contract between the student and the company.

UTPD officer Roberto Gonzalez said the most commonly reported stolen items on campus include laptops, bikes, cell phones and wallets. He said most of these incidents occur because students leave the items unattended in places like Gregory Gym.

UTPD implemented an ongoing program to track and catch bike thieves last year with “bait bikes.” With this program, UTPD placed bikes with a GPS tracker in many areas on campus and receive an alert if the bike has been moved. The bait bike program is different from Bloom’s proposed program because UTPD dispatch receive alerts if the bikes have been moved, and officers can receive the information via phone or email. With Bloom’s program, UTPD will likely get the information from the software company.

Michael Williams, sociology and applied learning senior, said he once had his laptop stolen at a retreat off campus and never got it back. Williams said the laptop cost approximately $1,500 and he had to replace the laptop on his own. Williams sits on the UTPD oversight committee and said he has suggested offering students ways to track their belongings in the past because it is a big concern on campus.

Bloom said the proposed proposed program will handle thefts off campus and aim to track belongings no matter where they were stolen. Williams said he would be very interested in a program that would track his belongings. He also said although it is a tracking software, he does not consider it an invasion of privacy.

“It wouldn’t be an invasion of privacy if it was an optional fee or something students could opt in to,” Williams said. “You’re giving the option and you take the option if you want.”