Crime, Law Schools

Law School Thievery (And One Radical Plan To Stop It)

Call me cynical, but whenever I read an email detailing thievery happening at a law school around exam time, I assume that the community is dealing with a fellow student who is looking to get an edge on the curve. It doesn’t strike me as random when items, especially laptops or power cords, disappear before or during finals (or even right after finals, if you’re looking at classes where there is some kind of term paper due after the final exam). Students sabotaging other students is something that has probably happened since Litchfield Law School. Thirty years ago, people would rip pages out of books in the library; today, people can lose a semester’s worth of notes when they leave their machine unattended for a brief period of time.

Of course, that’s just an assumption. Thieves come from outside the law school community more often then not. Law school security has to take all reasonable measures to protect the safety and the property of the students.

But what about a “sting” operation? That’s the radical idea being proposed by one student at a top law school recently afflicted by an outbreak of crime…

I don’t know — maybe now that Oprah is off the air all of our polite society will crumble? If so, we’d expect the first cracks in the social compact to appear in Chicago. And on cue, it seems that students at the University of Chicago Law School are dealing with so much theft that they must be prepared to show their papers at a moment’s notice when they are on campus.

Here’s a letter from the UofC dean of students warning people to be vigilant against the bandits that are apparently raiding campus:

To All Students:

As you know, there have been several reports of thefts of personal items from Law School lockers. The University of Chicago Police Department is investigating the thefts, and the Law School is examining what additional security measures it can take to address the thefts. We do know that these incidents are not limited to the Law School and that your help in not allowing non-law students to enter the building is critical to preventing these incidents. As you know, only law students and Law School personnel are permitted in the building during exams. As we have requested before, if you see someone you do not recognize — even if they are carrying a backpack — please notify the VCA desk person immediately. Please do not let anyone into the building, and please do not be offended if people do not open the door for you or request that you show your UChicago ID. You should be carrying your UChicago ID at all times…

In addition, while these recent events have involved lockers, valuables should not be left unattended at any time here or in any other public building. Today alone, numerous laptops and bags were observed unlocked and unattended in the Green Lounge and Library. There is no reason to make the Law School a more attractive environment to thieves.

Dude, this sounds serious. This sounds like Chicago Law students need to start piercing their valuables onto their bodies.

But vigilance is a fundamentally passive approach to the problem. “Keep your eyes open” works for some people, but others are looking for a more “take back the streets student lounge” approach. I mean you’ve got to ask yourself: what would Rahm Emanuel do?

One UofC student has a far more active plan to put an end to the stealing. A 3L posted this on the Chicago listserve:


I am sorry for those of you who are getting your laptops stolen – it sucks, and hopefully you will be able to recover them. If you use any website which automatically logs your IP address (like gmail for instance), you may be able to track your laptop by getting the IP address from gmail, and then issuing a subpoena to the ISP for the owner. It’s easier than you might think – log into gmail, scroll all the way down, click on details, and you have an IP log. You likely use other services that track your IP address.

Also, the lockers at school are notoriously unsecure. It’s really a 2 combination lock, since their 3rd number is spring loaded. The numbers follow certain rules (e.g., no number repeats consecutively), and one could create a spreadsheet to list all 1,560 combinations, and then sort for most probable combinations. You could brute force any law school locker in about 15 minutes. You can find template spreadsheets with about 5 minutes of googling or create your own.

Finally, given all the laptop locker thefts, I know the administration has recommended everyone increase security and vigilance. I’d actually suggest the opposite approach. If you assume the laptop thefts are related, you could leave cheap laptops unattended that have webcams, location services, and keyword loggers enabled that mail you transcripts when a network connection is detected. Leaving the laptop unattended in plain view would hopefully result in it being stolen. Making it easy for the thief to get into the computer and on the internet would allow you to learn a lot about the thief, including all passwords for any websites used on your computer, and possibly the location of the other laptops. I imagine some of you willing to pay $20 for laptop peace of mind could band together, or some could donate older laptops that can serve as bait. Hypothetically, if collective action problems persist, use your Visa signature or American Express credit card to purchase a $500 laptop. If it happens to get stolen within 90 days, file police report, track thief, and get your money back. You can read the insurance terms for purchase security here.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking: “Wow, this guy seems to know a lot about how campus thieves operate… maybe too much.”

But you should hear this guy out. The concept of using collective action to purchase laptop thief “bait” is brilliant on many levels. It appeals to the entire community to handle a community problem. It would catch the culprit red-handed. And it would do so without forcing the students to live in a closed off police state during exams.

This should be called: Operation Cannot Possibly Fail. This plan will succeed.

Unless… the threat to Chicago Law students comes from other Chicago Law students.

(hidden for your protection)

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