The Yates building at 8:00pm Monday. Yates Hall, along with several other campus buildings, were unlocked during the late hours of the night, leaving expensive electronic equipment and dangerous chemicals unprotected.
Part 1: Collegian finds campus unlocked
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Part 1 of a 3-part series
In icy 1-degree weather, Collegian reporters found warmth in the bowels of the Chemistry Building basement past midnight – when university buildings are supposed to be shut down and secured.
On a Monday night earlier this month, the reporters stumbled upon several chemicals, dozens of unguarded computers and expensive scientific equipment.
As CSU has been hit by a series of electronics thefts in recent months, the Collegian decided to test just how safe university equipment is late at night.
The CSU Police Department has made several arrests in the theft case, in which officials say an inside man with a master key provided access to buildings. Several suspects have been arrested, and police say more arrests could come.
The Collegian investigation, however, found that a master key or special access was not necessarily needed to snatch equipment.
Doors to outer buildings and offices were frequently open past midnight, and reporters had unhindered access to dozens of computers, monitors, expensive TVs, chemicals, copiers, printers and various pieces of video equipment.
In total, tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment was at risk from theft, the investigation found.
Buildings not secure
Over the course of four nights, Collegian staffers penetrated several buildings on campus, gaining access to not only expensive electronic equipment but also personnel files and potentially dangerous chemicals.
Among those buildings breached were the Administration, Student Services, Clark and Chemistry buildings, along with both Yates and Rockwell halls.
In the Chemistry Building, reporters found a 24-hour basement laboratory unattended three consecutive nights, leaving chemicals and mixing equipment to be taken at the whim of thieves, pranksters or drug users.
Among the collection of unguarded chemicals were bottles labeled "chloroform" and "ethyl ether," both of which are potentially deadly anesthetics that can be inhaled as recreational drugs.
Chris Rithner, a senior research scientist and director of the lab, said the chemicals aren’t what he’s most concerned about – one won’t find much that couldn’t be purchased at any Home Depot, he says.
"We actually don’t have much in the way of chemicals," he said. "I would say we have few that are very interesting to somebody looking to fill out their drug paraphernalia score card."
Rithner said the lab contains "several million dollars worth of equipment," but most of it is bulky and would be "of very little interest to anybody."
"Our biggest concern in this lab is not so much about chemical safety so much as it is trying to maintain the integrity of the lab so that you don’t have people walking off with computers and flat panel displays," Rithner said.
The lab, which also housed more than a dozen computers and other scientific instruments, was open all three nights.
Reporters – who entered through the same door on the west side of the building three nights in a row – did not encounter anyone during the hours spent wandering the building’s layout.
The Student Services Building near the Oval left reporters free to rifle through employee files that contained personal information including Social Security numbers and home addresses, information that could invariably be used in identity theft.
Wandering the halls of the rustic building, reporters also saw unguarded computers and other expensive office equipment.
The Administration Building, which houses CSU President Larry Penley’s office, was unlocked, allowing access to the heart of the university. All individual offices, including Penley’s, were locked, however.
Rockwell Hall, one of the newest and most technologically savvy buildings on campus, was also accessible. Reporters encountered a 50-inch plasma-screen TV on the lobby wall and an open multimedia classroom that contained two 65-inch high definition TVs, another 50-inch plasma-screen TV and multiple video cameras.
The four TV sets have a combined suggested retail value of more than $16,000.
Reporters entered the building that stands only steps away from Laurel Street through the north doors, where the replacement for the plasma-screen TV that was reported stolen last year hangs only feet from the unlocked entrance.
The Clark Building was breached through a maintenance door on the east side of the building. Inside, reporters gained access to classrooms that house video equipment and projectors.
One unlocked room in the C-wing of the building boasted three high-end video cameras, two TV sets and a video editing station, all of which could have easily been compromised.
Several offices were also unlocked, leaving personal belongings like computers, a hand-held video camera and other expensive equipment unsecured.
CSU police officers, after seeing what they thought could be thieves checking for unlocked doors, stopped the reporters on Jan. 19, the fourth and final night of the investigation.
The senior officer on the scene, Cpl. Darren J. Martinez, expressed to reporters his concern that CSUPD simply cannot check every door to make sure it has been properly secured.
"We can’t be everywhere at once," Martinez said.
Dexter Yarbrough, CSUPD police chief, said more members of the community are reporting suspicious behavior.
"The recent arrests of several individuals that were found to be stealing out of several academic buildings were a team effort and indicative of the great, positive effort of our community policing approach to solving problems," he said in a statement.
Not the first time
In a similar investigation conducted last year, reporters found several campus buildings were not properly secured after business hours, leaving expensive equipment vulnerable.
Many of the same buildings tested in last year’s investigation were accessed again. And in some cases, the very same doors were not locked properly.
The Collegian investigation stemmed from reports of recent electronics thefts on campus, which raised several questions: How secure are campus buildings? Who pays for the equipment? Who’s responsible for securing buildings? And how could university property be better protected?
For answers to these questions and more, see tomorrow’s Collegian for continuing coverage.
To leave a news tip for Collegian Investigates, call 491-1684 or send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Collegian staffers James Baetke, J. David McSwane and Vimal Patel can be reached at email@example.com.
Accessed Chemistry Building
- 12:50 accessed office of Robert Zimdahl (C029) – (1) television, (1) computer and monitor, (1) printer
- 1:05 accessed classroom (A101) with projector, (1) 4-head vcr, sound equipment, (1) overhead projector
- 1:06 Fax and copy room – (3) industrial copiers
- 1:12 (2) sun microsystem computers in lobby
- 1:17 (1) liquid nitrogen tank in hallway
- 1:20 Accessed basement lab (C2) – chloroform, acetonitrile, (at least 6) active computers, (1) HP printer, scientific equipment, liquid nitrogen, (1) laser printer, (3) unused computers, (1) unused monitor, Ethyl Ether, formic acid
Accessed Yates hall
- 1:43 Accessed classroom with (1) TV and (1) projector
- 1:50 Accessed lab room with scientific equipment, including scales
Accessed Clark building
- 12:30 a.m. accessed graduate study room (L.S. Fan graduate study room) – (2) HP workstation computers and monitors
- 12:49 (3) sun microsystem computers in Clark C lobby
- 1:00 a.m. accessed room media room across from liberal arts college – (1) video editing station (4-head Panasonic vcr, 8 Sony mini monitors) (3) production video cameras, (3) TV sets, (1) projector, speaker system
- 1:10 accessed server control room (C 027) that appeared to house network connections and phone lines
- 1:13 Accessed office of Michele Faris, Psy. D. and Christopher Leck, M.S.W. – (1) handheld Sony video camera, (1) Dell computer and monitor, (1) printer
- 1:30 Accessed classroom (A204) – (1) DVD player and (1) 4-head vcr, projector, speakers
- 1:35 (3) sun microsystem computers in Clark A-wing lobby
- 1:40 Accessed conference room with (1) DVD player, (1) Betamax player, projector, (1) Compaq computer A027
- 1:50 Accessed classroom with (1) DVD player, (1) 4-head vcr and (1) projector
Accessed Chemistry building
- 2:02 Accessed basement lab (C2) – chloroform, acetonitrile, (at least 6) active computers, (1) HP printer, scientific equipment, liquid nitrogen, (1) laser printer, (3) unused computers, (1) unused monitor, Ethyl Ether, formic acid
Accessed Rockwell Hall
- 12:20 009 K. Kelly – (2) computers and monitors, (1) laptop, (1) printer
- 12:31 (1) 50" Plasma-screen TV in lobby
- 12:35 Accessed a multimedia classroom – (2) 65" HD TVs, (1) 50" plasma-screen TV, (3) production video cameras, (1) computer with (2) monitors and electronic writing pad, (1) projector
Accessed Student Services Building
- 1:06 Graduate School – (2) copy machines, (2) computers and Center for Educational Access and Outreach had unlocked filing cabinets with access to personal files, including travel expenses and SSNs of faculty
Accessed Administration Building
- 1:26 entered through south doors
Accessed Plant Sciences Building
- 1:38 entered through north doors