Campus store uses hidden security measures to prevent theft

By By Katie Valentine

By Katie Valentine

The U Campus Store strives to be a virtual Fort Knox, especially around its priciest items, so it doesn’t have to raise the cost of textbooks or technology for students to compensate for stolen property.

Textbooks are the most popular item in the campus store to disappear from shelves and reappear in the hands of thieves. They are popular items to steal because thieves can get cash quickly by selling them to bookstores, students or online. But to get away with them, the thieves have to get past a web of security.

To combat textbook theft, the store hired guards, dressed in casual clothing, to help monitor the shelves, along with strategically placed video cameras.

Some students steal textbooks, but not as much as people coming from off campus, said Earl Clegg, director of the campus store. Transients are increasingly committing more crimes on campus since the use of TRAX has made them more mobile, according to U police data from 2008.

The secret guards, who started in July 2008, are giving the store the reputation of no longer being an easy target to steal from, Clegg said.

Even if thieves dodge the undercover security, they’re hard-pressed to avoid dozens of digital eyes.

The bookstore’s surveillance system consists of 64 cameras positioned throughout the store. Security personnel watch the cameras on computer screens in the basement. Cameras can start following anyone in the parking lot and capture a customer’s every move until he or she leaves the store.

The security system has been able to solve its fair share of crime, said Michael Wahls, a computer professional for the campus store. The resolution of the cameras can be set as high as Wahls would like it. The low resolution still provides enough detail to help solve any crime. A fender bender a couple of weeks ago in the parking lot was caught on the bookstore’s camera, and the victim was able to prove his story through the footage caught on tape.

The store also has additional security in the software and computer section. The computers on display are all connected to an alarm that would go off if someone tried to steal them. The computers being sold are kept in the back in a room not accessible to customers. On top of that, the section is specifically cornered off so that thieves can’t quickly slip away from the scene with the store’s priciest items before someone watching a surveillance system catches up with them.

That small practice stops theft from the computer section, said Vaughn Durfee, associate director of the campus store.

Crime is commonly thwarted when thieves can be quickly identified through the eyes of the wandering employees or the eagle-eye view of the cameras, said Chief Scott Folsom of the U Police Department.

Shoplifters have specific characteristics; they know where everyone is and are constantly moving, Clegg said. The thieves also look at everything except what they are after, Clegg said.

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Lennie Mahler

lennie mahler/The Daily Utah Chronicle Shoppers look at merchandise at the U Campus Store on Monday afternoon. The store utilizes non-uniformed security guards and 64 surveillance cameras to monitor suspicious activity.