Stolen or lost property can often be hard to trace because owners don’t record serial numbers or other identifying information, but a new initiative by the UMass Police Department’s Community Outreach Unit is making it easier for student and campus employees to register their valuables.
Through Project Protect, community members can register anything from bicycles and cell phones to electronics, computers and musical instruments in an online database that police can use to trace recovered items.
Hundreds of items are lost or stolen on campus annually, said UMPD officer Brian Kellogg. Last year, more than 600 thefts were reported to police and the stolen items, including 70 laptops, had an estimated total value of more than $300,000.
“We’re dealing with crimes of opportunity,” said Kellogg, adding that smaller devices such as cell phones or iPods can be quickly and easily concealed.
“We do catch people,” he said, “Chances are if we find one stolen item, we find many more. We can spend a lot of time trying to figure out who they belong to.”
According to Kellogg, many people have no idea where to find serial numbers and Mac addresses stored inside devices, so the website offers some tips on finding the identifying information.
After logging in with their campus Net ID, Project Protect users can enter contact information and a general description of each item and use drop-down menus to select a category, such as a tablet computer. There are also places to record the manufacturer, model name, color, approximate value and the serial number. Users can even attach a photo of the item.
The website instructs users how to find the on their belongings and enter the details into the database. Once they’ve registered their belongings, users can get decals to place on the devices to deter thieves and aid recovery if the item is found.
Kellogg credits Dave Ruderman of University Relation’s Communications and Marketing for getting the website up and running.
The next step, according to Kellogg, is a publicity blitz to spread the word about the site and what it offers. Mobile registration kiosks at dining commons and other visible locations are planned and the Office of Information Technologies is going to highlight the program as part of Cyber Security Month in October. Information about Project Protect was also included in a rcent issue of the Parents Newsletter, said Kellogg.
While Project Protect may help deter some thefts or speed recovery of some items, Kellogg stressed the need for community members to always be vigilant about safeguarding their valuables. “Students and employees should never leave their laptops, smartphones or other devise unattended in public areas,” Kellogg said. “You should always lock your office or room when you’re not around, even if it’s just for a moment.”