Theft an ongoing issue for bookstore
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A new school year brings back old challenges for the nonprofit SFSU Bookstore, including student shoplifting and organized book-stealing rings. The bookstore donates its proceeds back to the University every year and according to management, merchandise loss takes away from this effort.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, four arrests have been made by the Department of Public Safety for shoplifting in the bookstore. In the first two weeks of class, an arrest was made every three days.

Associate general manager Brian Zimmerman said that although this may seem like a lot so far, the arrest numbers are comparable with previous semesters, and thieves that make a living stealing books have been around for years.

"It's a huge cash business," Zimmerman said. "It's been a problem, and since books can be stolen and sold, it's an industry."

He explained that professionals select books with the highest resale value and will take an entire stack in one quick motion, with the intent of selling them back to other local bookstores with buy-back programs. Although the number of professional book thieves compared to desperate students is relatively small, Zimmerman said the damage is much more severe.

"The amount they are taking is much bigger, and they also know to take high-value books," Zimmerman said.

To help counter this, Zimmerman has been cooperating with the City College of San Francisco's bookstore general manager Don Newton to share information and catch repeat offenders. According to Zimmerman, employees are trained to look for price tag stickers, lack of apparent usage, and anyone attempting to sell multiple copies of one text.

"That's the signal to us that they might be of a suspicious nature," Zimmerman said.

Although stealing electronics such as headphones is common, Zimmerman said that so far this semester all of the arrests have been for stealing textbooks and appear to have been for personal use. According to him, students commit most cases of theft during the beginning of the semester, however professionals show up more and more throughout the remainder.

"They're doing it for a living, basically," Zimmerman said.

For an organization that gives its proceeds back to the students in many different ways, shoplifting and professional book thieves have made it difficult to contribute the way it might be able to otherwise, according to bookstore officials.

According to Husam Erciyes, director of marketing and strategic projects for the bookstore, $325,000 was given to the SF State general fund last year. When combined with event sponsorships, various donations and the book buy-back program, the bookstore returned over $1 million to students and the university in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Erciyes said any surpluses at the end of the year automatically go into SF State's general fund, unfortunately, these surpluses are eroded by student and non-student theft.

"It affects how much we can give back to the university every semester," Zimmerman said. With a door alarm system, full-time security staff and undercover shoppers, Zimmerman hopes to continue to reduce merchandise loss with what he describes as a preventative approach.

Erciyes said that in regards to the bookstore, what's spent on campus stays on campus.
"Some of those students don't realize that when they steal from us, they steal from students."

"I feel that students should think before they steal about who it is going to be affecting," said 19-year-old Kimrey Nicholson, undecided. "I feel robbed."

With hundreds of visitors flowing in and out of its twin entries every day, Zimmerman said his philosophy is to prevent theft with customer service.

"The last thing a potential thief wants to hear is 'are you finding everything okay?'" Zimmerman said.

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PHOTO
Maria Katrina Echon | staff photographer
Clifford Murray, 20, SFSU Bookstore's Loss Control Security is checking a student's bags after hearing the alarm go off on Wednesday, September 9, 2009.

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