Laptop theft costs college $12,000

By Amy Lieberman

Adding to the list of stolen college-owned electronics in the past few years, nine laptops disappeared from the library sometime between Friday and Sunday last weekend, costing the college approximately $12,000. At this point, Facilities Management Administrator Terry Gorman said there are few leads in the case.The stolen laptops constituted only half of those available in the library’s laptop rental program, which allows students to check out laptops — only to be used in the library — when they present a student identification card.

Shortly after the laptops were discovered missing, Systems Librarian Ron Joslin indefinitely terminated the program.

“If we do continue the program, there are going to have to be some changes,” Joslin said. “We can’t afford to lose laptops every month.”

Joslin said he received an e-mail on Sunday morning alerting him to the laptops’ disappearance. After Joslin verified their absence, Facilities Management and the St. Paul police were notified.

“This is a felony theft,” Gorman said. “The police wanted to get involved. They might get lucky and hopefully they will uncover the case.”

The laptops were stored in a key-locked wooden cabinet behind the computer lab information desk in the basement of the library. Joslin said that the lock was not destroyed. It remains uncertain how the laptops were obtained, he said.

“Most likely [they were stolen] when the area was unlocked, unsecured or possibly they got a hold of a key somehow,” Joslin wrote in an e-mail.

This incident is not isolated. Last February, 5 laptop computers were also taken from a staff office and the library’s reserve desk. The laptops have yet to be recovered, leaving the college short approximately $7,000. Last spring saw an attempted break-in to the same locked cabinets behind the lab information desk.

The college also sustained the loss of missing classroom projectors several times in the last few years, amounting to a total loss of $12,000.

“This [trend of theft] goes back a ways,” Gorman said. “But it has been quiet this year. We haven’t seen a laptop report.”

According to Joslin, after last year’s laptop robbery, the library implemented new security measures. Library staff labeled and tagged the equipment and reinforced locks. The laptops stolen did not have the barcode that sounds an alarm when someone exits the main library doors. However, they are physically engrained with a Macalester College marking.

“We tried to tighten things up,” Joslin said, “And I felt good about the changes we had made.”

The engrained laptop markings might help investigators acquire leads, but at this stage, the police remain largely in the dark. Gorman said that the investigators are first hoping to figure out when the laptops were actually taken. From there, they will interview library employees to try to piece together events and observations.

Sean Peterson ’07, a library student employee, worked his shifts this past weekend on Friday afternoon and Saturday night when there were four student employees stationed until 10 p.m. Peterson said that upon closing, the employees walked through each floor as always to make sure there was no one left in the library after the doors were locked.

“It was surprising,” he said. “I didn’t see anything weird happen at all.”

But Peterson said that this robbery has not made him nervous about working behind the front desk.

“I don’t think it was violent or anything,” he said. “It was just someone trying to make some money.”

Joslin remarked on the laptop rental program’s popularity, and the unfortunate effect its suspension will have on student patrons.

“It’s a very popular program and it isn’t uncommon during midterms and finals for there to be lines of people waiting to check out laptops,” Joslin said. “Fifty to 60 people come here daily…people are asking to check out laptops and are not happy.”

Joslin is uncertain of what exact policy changes for student workers and security will be enacted, but explained in an e-mail that, “If the decision is made to begin checking laptops out again to students, changes will definitely be made to make sure that this type of loss will not happen again.”