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Safety & Security

Homeland Security Grant Aims to Curb Theft at Bender Library

Cameras installed to deter laptop theft

By Ravi Raman

Bender Library at night

Photo by Jeff Watts.

American University recently received a grant award of almost $73,000 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be used for the purpose of making security upgrades at the Bender Library. Michael McNair, director of American University Public Safety, expects improved security in and around the Bender Library to help reduce the incidences of theft – particularly of laptops.  

According to McNair, "Despite our best efforts to combat theft, we received 34 reports of laptops being stolen during the past year alone. In fact, for a time, we were receiving two to three incidences a week."

The Public Safety department took a number of measures to curtail the incidences of theft. McNair explains, "We posted warning throughout the library for visitors to be mindful of their laptops and other belongings. The library loaned out laptop-locking cables. Public Safety aids would look for unattended laptops, and basically wait next to them until the owner returned. We even set up 'bait laptops' to try to apprehend would-be thieves. While our measures certainly reduced theft, we were always looking for better, more efficient ways of addressing the issue."  

Taking measures to prevent theft, while balancing the maintenance of privacy with consideration for people's personal safety and their belongings, has been an ongoing concern for the Public Safety department. McNair says, "After a great deal of consideration, we realized that the best, most efficient method of addressing all of the important concerns would be to install security cameras in unobtrusive locations at the entrances and exits of each floor of the library as well as in the open, highly trafficked areas where study tables are located."

"Bender Library is a 'soft target' for crime because it's open 24 hours a day, always openly accessible, and highly trafficked by a mix of students, faculty, staff, and often DC residents. The cameras are intended to help improve security by allowing us to be on the lookout for any occurrences of theft throughout all of the library's floors and the immediate perimeter, in real time."  

"We want everyone in the AU community – students, faculty, staff, and visitors – to feel safe and secure while also respecting their privacy at all times. The cameras are intended to help us achieve each of those goals," says McNair.