Tips to Prevent Property Theft

Deter ‘crimes of opportunity’ by taking several safety precautions

John Dailey, chief of Duke Police, explains aspects of his department during a past
John Dailey, chief of Duke Police, explains aspects of his department during a past "Coffee with a Cop" meet-and-greet event. Dailey notes that many property thefts occur as “crimes of opportunity.” Photo by Duke Photography.

Around noon on Sept. 19, Uzoma Ayogu was ready to cheer on the Duke football team as they hosted Northwestern University but first needed to stow his MacBook laptop. 

Already in the Bryan Center, he stopped in an office and hid his property, choosing a spot between a large box and couch where he thought the computer couldn’t be seen.

“I went to the game for 90 minutes and when I came back, my laptop, its cord and all my pencils and books were taken,” said Ayogu, a sophomore. “I phoned Duke Police immediately, and they were very helpful in filing a report.”

Unfortunately for Ayogu, his property is yet to be recovered and his books and laptop aren’t the only things lost. On his computer, he had been working on a spreadsheet to track internship applications, updating his resume and completing classwork.

“I had backed up my files 11 days before, but it still set me back 12 hours in terms of work that was lost,” he said. 

Ayogu is among about 25 community members reporting larcenies on the university campus last month, many of them with similar circumstances involving students or employees leaving personal property alone in a public space, like a library or student union. Other thefts may occur when doors aren’t locked or items are left in plain sight.

“These are crimes of opportunity,” said John Dailey, chief of Duke Police. “If we aren’t attentive to our property, it can provide an opportunity for someone to easily walk off with laptops, smartphones and other valuables.”

Eric Hester, crime prevention specialist with Duke Police, suggested Duke community members take these safety precautions to prevent property theft:

  • Lock residence or office doors when away and secure belongings out of sight in cabinets or drawers.
  • Don’t prop open doors, especially those accessed only with a DukeCard.
  • Alert police to strangers or suspicious activity.
  • Don’t leave valuables unattended. 

Duke Police also provides a free engraving service for electronic devices that can help deter theft and help track owners when stolen items are recovered. Engraving sessions can be scheduled for student groups or departments at locations across campus by calling (919) 681-5609.

“Criminals don’t want something that can be traced,” Hester said. “I’ve done more than 120 engraving sessions since I’ve been at Duke, and I’ve only had three calls from people seeking to locate stolen property. I think that speaks to how effective engraving is as a deterrent.”

For more information about engraving personal property and other safety tips, visit the Duke Police website.