05:57am Saturday 04 April 2020

Back-to-School Safety

Virginia Commonwealth University students have unloaded, unpacked and made themselves comfortable on the campus they will call home for the next nine months. Now, it’s time to start thinking about safety.

During orientation for new and transfer students, VCU Police emphasized the importance of protecting personal property. The police department offers registration for bicycles and laptops so that if an item is stolen, the police already have all of the information necessary to file an official report and, with any luck, recover the property.

With Operation PCID, VCU Police records the make, serial and model numbers for laptops and keeps the information on file.

“A lot of students who have computers stolen can’t say a thing about them,” said Officer Matthew Ruland of VCU Police’s Safety and Security Division. “They don’t know the serial numbers or the model numbers; they just know they have a Dell. With PCID, we have that information, we can do a full report, we can enter it into a national database and the computer can potentially be recovered.”

Participants also mark the computer with their home state and license number. If a student’s stolen property is recovered anywhere in the nation, police can use this information to obtain his or her name and address from state driver files and return it. The label can also serve as a visible deterrent, as property that has been permanently marked is difficult for thieves to pawn or convert to personal use.

The bicycle registration program works similarly. Students record their serial numbers on the bike registration form, and VCU Police affixes a numbered decal — another visible deterrent — to the bike. According to Ruland, the program has helped them recover a large number of stolen bikes. For both programs, students simply need to bring their items to VCU Police to fill out a registration form.

“A lot of people get caught up in life and don’t keep records of stuff,” Ruland said. “We’ll keep records for them.”

New student Amanda Radke, a sophomore from Virginia Beach, decided to register both her laptop and her bicycle during VCU’s Welcome Week.

“They are my two most important tools on campus,” Radke said. “Without them I wouldn’t be able to go to class or do my homework. They’re also my two most expensive things, and I wouldn’t be able to replace them right away. It just makes sense to register them.”

VCU Police also told new students about a relatively new program called Text-a-Tip. Launched in February 2011, Text-a-Tip allows students, faculty and other members of the VCU community to send anonymous tips by text message on their cell phones. Tipsters should text “VCUtip” to the number 274637 to open up a dialogue with the police. Once the system responds back with an identifying number — the only identification the police will have for the informant — the student can send the tip.

“Our student body is very tech-savvy,” said Sgt. Nicole Dailey, who manages security operations for VCU Police. “Students are using text messaging and apps on their phone all the time, so it’s kind of hitting the community right where they communicate.”

The program, which is affiliated with CrimeStoppers, is completely anonymous. Cash awards are provided if information leads to arrest or conviction. Dailey discourages people from using Text-a-Tip for crimes that are in progress, but rather to help solve crimes that have already taken  place or to prevent crimes that may happen in the future.

“It’s good for students because it’s simple; it’s easy,” she said. “They’re going back and forth to class; they don’t have time to sit in a police department and be interviewed. This way, they can give us immediate information just by texting. I think it’s going to be great for us.”

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