Don't Feed the Thieves!

(Edmonton) Have you heard the story about the student who left his laptop at his spot in the library while he dashed off for coffee? When he came back five minutes later, it was gone.

It’s not a funny tale, and Bill Mowbray has heard it too many times in his job as director of University of Alberta Protective Services. Theft of property is the number-one crime at the U of A, he says, with students and staff losing laptops, music players, wallets, purses, bikes and books every year.

University property goes missing too, especially computers and electronics.
We make it too easy for the criminals, says Mowbray. “People feel extremely secure here,” says the former Edmonton Police Services member who moved to the U of A in 2002. “That’s a good thing. But, unfortunately it can also mean we have an unrealistic sense of the potential risks. We can be too trusting.”

Mowbray says most of the criminals come to campus from outside and have an easy time blending in. “Thieves have an uncanny knack for being invisible,” he says. “But they are among us and they know just what they’re looking for. They can grab your computer, slip it in a backpack and be across the river on the LRT before anyone’s noticed a thing.”

Protective Services concluded that the most effective response would be for people simply to take better care of their property. This called for an awareness campaign and a memorable slogan. The “Don’t Feed the Thieves” concept was born during a discussion among Protective Services officers. Tony Larson, a patrol supervisor, came up with it, Mowbray says.

“It fit perfectly. We wanted something to cause people to increase vigilance without causing unnecessary fear. This seemed to strike the right balance.”

Over the summer, Protective Services consulted numerous campus groups, including libraries, the Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Association and communications experts across the university. With the favourable feedback received, they took the concept to the university’s marketing and communications department.

“The artist came back with the design, including the idea for using the raccoon, a week later. It was just what we were looking for. We didn’t have to change it at all,” says Mowbray.

The campaign rolls out this month, with posters, magnets, newspaper advertisements, video reminders and a website. Mowbray hopes the concept will live on for at least a few years.

Staff in Facilities & Operations have begun placing “Don’t Feed the Thieves” posters in buildings across the University’s North Campus, and Protective Services officers have begun to deliver posters and other media to offices across the campus. The campaign extends to Augustana Campus and Enterprise Square; a French version is in the works for Campus Saint-Jean.

Making the thieves go hungry
Protective Services offers these tips to lower your chances of being victim of theft:

- Your office: Don’t leave valuables unattended and unlocked. Lock your wallet or purse in a drawer. Lock your office door. Ask strangers the nature of their business. Usually all it takes to scare off a potential thief is to ask “Can I help you?”
- Your car: Roll up the windows and lock the doors. Don’t leave anything visible, not even loose change. Don’t leave vital information in the vehicle. Use a car alarm and consider buying a steering locking device.
- In public spaces: Don’t leave your things, even for a few minutes. Take valuables with you or leave them in the care of someone you trust.
If you spot suspicious activity, trust your instincts. If something does not look right, call Protective Services at 780-492-5050.

For more go to http://www.dontfeedthethieves.ualberta.ca.