‘I only turned my back for a minute’: String of laptop thefts hits Berkeley cafes

Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/Staff

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A recent string of laptop thefts near the UC Berkeley campus has put Berkeley residents increasingly on edge.

There were 16 laptop thefts reported in January — more than the number of reported laptop thefts in November and December combined, according to Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel.

Victims of laptop theft often “leave (their) laptop unattended, get up to get coffee or something and someone comes by and grabs it,” Frankel said.

In addition to the 16 thefts, 32 robberies were reported in January, Frankel said. According to Frankel, robberies are more violent and forceful than thefts, but are not always successful.

Robbery includes the “use of force or fear,” while theft is typically nonviolent, Frankel said. He added that laptop theft might occur if a laptop is left unattended.

There is no single group or type of individual that people should be aware of, Frankel said. Most theft and robbery attempts are unrelated, he added.

Most of the laptop thefts and robberies have occurred at cafes near the UC Berkeley campus, including Caffe Strada, Cafe Blue Door, Starbucks and 85C Bakery Cafe .

“We’ve actually had very few laptop thefts reported on campus lately, and only one was committed in a confrontational manner,” UCPD Sgt. Andrew Tucker said in an email.

Martin Perez, a manager at Cafe Milano, said he was concerned about the thefts, many of which have taken place at local cafés.

Though no recent laptop thefts have been reported at Cafe Milano, Perez said the café has had meetings with employees to discuss the increase in thefts. Café management has reminded staff members to be observant and aware of any unusual activity, according to Perez.

BPD has taken specific measures in response to the string of thefts to keep the community safe, namely through outreach to promote awareness about the threat of theft.

“Hopefully community members will be more aware that this is going on,” Frankel said. “We share our crime alerts with (UCPD); we post it to our website.”

Students may need to take extra measures to safeguard their belongings, Frankel said. He suggested that students back up digital work and install tracking software on their laptops and that when they are working in a public setting, they use laptop locks and take a picture of the serial number on their laptops.

Constant awareness is necessary to prevent laptop theft, according to Frankel. In most instances, suspects scan their surroundings to look for people who are “not paying attention,” Frankel said.

“(It is) not uncommon to hear, ‘I only turned my back for a minute,’ ” Frankel said.

Contact Sri Medicherla at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sri_medicherla.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sgt. Andrew Frankel said 32 attempted laptop robberies occurred in January. In fact, he said there were 32 robberies in January.