Don't Get Caught by a Holiday 'Grinch'

Duke police officers provide crime prevention tips

Duke employees should be vigilant when protecting personal property, which includes stowing valuables in cars. Thieves may target items left in plain view. Photo illustration by

Officers with the Duke University Police Department are encouraging employees and students to practice safety precautions to help deter property crime, which typically experiences a slight uptick over the holidays.

Whether it's something as simple as stowing or locking up personal property or reporting a suspicious person, small action steps can add up, said Eric Hester, crime prevention officer with Duke Police.

"We're here to help, so students, faculty and staff shouldn't hesitate to call us if they see something going on or if they've got questions about safety they want answered," Hester said. "It's all about staying diligent of your surroundings and not allowing for crimes of opportunity by leaving personal items lying around."

At Duke, most campus crime involves theft of unattended property, including break-ins to vehicles, Hester said. In October and November, a pattern of vehicle break-ins occurred along the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail. Last week, city of Durham police apprehended two men after an attempted car break-in by the trail. Officers with Duke Police are investigating whether those men are involved with the break-ins along the campus trail.

Car break-ins commonly arise because Duke community members and visitors leave valuables in plain sight, either on the passenger seat of their car or in the back seat, Hester said.

Here are a few easy tips to practice:

  • In vehicles, stow property from plain view and secure windows and doors.
  • Lock your office and secure belongings in locked drawers while away.
  • Don't prop open doors, especially ones accessed with a DukeCard.
  • Alert police to strangers or suspicious activity.

As part of an array of crime prevention efforts, Duke officers provide safety presentations to students, faculty and staff on request. A full list of crime prevention outreach offered by Duke Police can be found online.

This resource is something Bob Hickman knows well. In the past year, he's invited Hester five times to speak about personal and property safety with employees at the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

"It's an eye-opener to people," said Hickman, safety specialist at the Duke Clinical Research Institute. "Eric taught us about being aware of suspicious people and how to keep things organized so you're not at risk for being robbed. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to safety."