University News

Twin laptop thefts shake English department

Contributing Writer
Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Apple laptops have been stolen from the graduate student cluster on the fourth floor of the English department building since the start of spring break, according to Mark Porter, chief of police and director of public safety.

The first theft occurred between March 27, when a female graduate student locked her office and secured her computer with a laptop lock cable, and March 30, when she returned to the building. Upon her return, she found the office door had been forced open and the laptop cable cut, Porter said. DPS detectives found pry marks on the metal of the door and wood chips on the ground, indicating someone had forced the door open with a metal object, likely a screwdriver, he said.

The second theft occurred April 5 in the graduate student office across the hall from the site of the first crime. Around 1:30 p.m., a student left her laptop unsecured and unattended for about five minutes while she stepped into a neighboring office, Porter said. When she realized she had left her laptop out in the open, she returned to find it missing.

Devon Anderson, a second-year English graduate student, said at the time of the second theft there was another unsecured laptop and a purse out in the open in the office. Both went untouched.

“Typically in cases with such a short time frame, there are very specific and limited motives and types of suspects,” Porter said in regard to the twin thefts. “We look into special identifying circumstances such as things on the computer itself and the location of the theft. This being the fourth floor, it’s probably somebody who knows the area.”

Porter said the information the detectives are gathering indicates “some relation between the thefts.” DPS has not identified any individual as responsible, but “detectives are focusing on a number of possible leads,” he said.

Kevin McLaughlin, professor of English and chair of the department, said he thinks one person is responsible for both crimes. “I think what’s significant is that both occurred in the same part of the building — a quiet area that houses graduate students,” he said.

In addition to the main staircase in the building that leads to an exit on Brown Street, there is a back stairway near the graduate student cluster that leads to a more isolated exit on Angell Street. Porter said the criminal may have slipped out the back door.

The two thefts were the first in the English department since 2008, Porter said.

“It’s just no longer a safe space,” Anderson said about the building.

“One can sort of hypothesize that a good way to blend in if one were a laptop thief would be to look like a student and have a backpack,” McLaughlin said. “That means, I think, we’re all just extra aware of how people are moving in the building, and that’s just really unfortunate.”

In addition to those taken from the English department, two other laptops have been stolen on campus recently. Two professors had their computers taken from locked offices in the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions between March 23 and April 3, Porter said. But he said there is no evidence the thefts were related.

In response to the number of laptop thefts on campus in the past few years, DPS’s crime prevention unit has been working on lowering laptop theft rates.

“We’re getting more information and awareness out, and people are taking more precautions, but we have to take a bigger step toward protecting our personal property,” Porter said. “Laptops and other portable electronics are pretty easy targets for theft, and theft continues to be one of the most common problems on college campuses.”

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