Spotlight: Lost and found officer loves the return

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | APRIL 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Geoff Chapin sat in his narrow, cement, windowless office, surrounded by the misplaced detritus of humanity.

“Welcome to my cave,” he said and laughed.

Separated into six black plastic tubs, Chapin collects dozens of wallets, cell phones, keys, and miscellaneous items on a daily basis.

But he doesn’t own any of these items. He is simply their caretaker.

For the last year, the 33-year-old Muscatine native has worked as the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Lost and Found/Fingerprints security guard, collecting, sorting, and returning items misplaced by people on campus.

“I love to return things; it’s rewarding for me,” Chapin said, his brown eyes shining.

“I don’t get paid based on that, it’s not a grade or anything, but at the end of the year, I can print off how many things I’ve returned, and it makes me feel better about my job,” he said.

To be precise, 214 is the magic number — the number of lost items he’s returned to their owners since taking the position in January 2010.

Finding the person to whom a lost item belongs is no small feat. He often spends hours scouring lost property for a name or any traceable information that could lead him to the owner of the lost item.

“You get lucky sometimes, you know, and it’s kind of part of the job,” Chapin said. “You just have to be lucky to find the owner and that kind of makes it fun too. You’re digging around on a cell phone trying to find a number or the name of the person, and you’re like, ‘Yes, I found it.’ It’s exciting sometimes.”

Chapin’s duty as lost and found/finger print security guard was created as a full-time position last year, after the UI police decided they needed one person to be in charge to obtain more consistency and accuracy.

When he’s not tracking lost items, Chapin’s responsibilities include doing fingerprints, making daily mail runs to the courthouse, taking unmarked cars for service, and other odd jobs to help lighten the workload of others at the department. Previously, some of those duties were left up to officers to complete.

“He plays a role that we really need help with providing that service to the university community,” said UI police Capt. Peter Roth. “He really has organized that and tries to reunite property back with their owners.”

Daniel Grissom, a UI security guard who worked the night shift with Chapin for four years, described Chapin as patient and understanding.

“Sometimes when people come and look for stuff that you don’t have, and they get upset, he deals with it pretty good,” Grissom said. “He’s definitely the right person; he does a much better job at containing his anger when someone frustrates him than some other people.”

And even though Chapin said his job is often thankless, he said the only thing that frustrates him is that he can’t return every item.

“I like helping people, that’s the biggest thing,” he said, readjusting the crisp collar on his tan security uniform. “If nothing else, you have a bad day, you can look back at it and say, I helped this lady find her such-and-such — it’s to help people.”

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