U Bookstores reportsloss to theft despiteadvanced security

Tricia Michel

As one of the largest textbook retailers in the country, University Bookstores brings in millions in revenue each year. But it also loses thousands of dollars to theft annually, despite sophisticated security equipment.

Bookstores director Bob Crabb said theft is not extremely common but does happen.

“Folks around here are pretty honest, but there are always a few that make it difficult,” he said.

Each month, the bookstores compare their purchases to inventory and determine shortages.

Because of theft and accounting errors, Crabb said, the numbers never match up. He said the stores lose between 0.5 percent and 3 percent of their total annual revenue to shortages.

Most people who steal from the bookstores are not students, Crabb said. Police once caught a group of shoplifters at Coffman Union who were wanted for stealing from other retailers, too, he said.

The Coffman Union bookstore uses a security system similar to those in large department stores. It uses sensors, cameras and security gates to catch thieves, Crabb said.

He said a number of arrests have been made in the last few months because of better security. University police would not comment.

Other university bookstores have similar shortage problems.

University of Iowa bookstore manager George Herbert said $195,000 of the store’s $13 million in annual revenue is lost to shortages. He credits two-thirds of that to theft and one-third to accounting errors.

Compact discs and DVDs are some of the most common items stolen from the bookstore.

The Iowa bookstore tried to tighten security by putting magnetic tags on some goods, but the tags ended up being a bigger pain than they were worth, Herbert said. The store now relies solely on 16 strategically placed cameras.

Herbert said 95 percent of the customers are students, but only a small percentage steal from the bookstore.

“Generally, our bigger issues are with people coming in off the street and not students,” he said.

Purdue University Bookstore manager Tom Frey said the university factors in $100,000 annually for bookstore theft. He said that in the past, most of Purdue’s bookstore theft has been by employees, which is why employees are required to take a psychological test before they are hired.

Purdue’s bookstore uses video cameras and undercover police officers during peak seasons to combat bookstore theft.

Frey said anyone caught stealing is prosecuted. An assistant dean and a head counselor whose jobs included counseling student shoplifters were previously caught stealing from the store, he said.

“Shoplifters are usually the stupidest people,” Frey said.