Jan 312007
Authors: James Baetke J. David McSwane, Vimal Patel

The Clark Building at 6 p.m. on Wednesday January 31, 2007.


Part 1: Collegian finds campus unlocked

Part 2: Who’s responsible for locking the doors?

Part 3: An electronic cardkey system could alleviate after-hours thefts

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Part 2 of a 3-part series

A Collegian investigation that exposed how several campus buildings are left unlocked after hours has some campus officials pointing fingers.

Many building supervisors, proctors and faculty say the responsibility to keep doors locked and thieves out falls on various entities, and that no single department or individual is to blame.

Over the course of the four-night investigation, reporters penetrated several campus buildings past midnight and ultimately had access to tens of thousands of dollars worth of electronics equipment, in addition to personnel files and chemicals.

The doors are supposed to be locked after hours – generally about 10 p.m. at the latest – but some individuals are authorized to be in the buildings after the university officially shuts down.

“The philosophy of the campus is (to) provide open access to those that need it,” said Brian Chase, director of facilities management. “One of the outcomes of a campus that values open access is that it does compromise your security and increase the risk of theft.”

All campus buildings should be locked from 10:00 p.m. through 7:00 a.m. weeknights and through the weekend, according CSU’s building proctor manual, a 92-page document.

About $300,000 in campus goods is stolen each year, costing individual departments, students and taxpayers.

The Collegian investigation was conducted between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. earlier this month. Reporters gained access to several major campus buildings through unlocked outer doors, including Rockwell Hall, the Clark Building and a chemistry lab housing “several million dollars” of equipment and potentially dangerous chemicals.

Who is responsible?

Chase says his department owns some of the blame for unlocked entry points on campus, but says building proctors and individuals should remain vigilant in keeping buildings protected.

Not surprised by the investigation’s findings, Chase said there is plenty of room for improvement all around – from his department, as well as CSU students and staff.

“The culture of the campus is that people are not security-minded and you do have, especially in the Chemistry Building, a lot of graduate students and researchers that work evening hours, and it’s inconvenient to lock up after themselves,” Chase said.

Dell Rae Moellenberg, a CSU spokeswoman, said locking doors to offices, classrooms and laboratories is the responsibility of the individual in charge of each room.

Facilities Management, meanwhile, is charged with locking the outer doors to buildings.

Chase said he does not expect proctors – designated individuals who are the point people for building affairs – to be fully responsible for security concerns and is more worried about faculty who fail to lock up properly.

“You can’t blame the proctors if you can’t get the faculty and staff to be security conscious,” Chase said. “We remind proctors every term to be aware of the security concerns they and their occupants must take responsibility for. Individuals in the departments are responsible for locking offices or labs.”

If proctors are responsible for security issues, then that comes as a surprise to Chris Rithner, Chemistry Building proctor and a senior research scientist.

Rithner is the director of the Central Instrumentation Facility, the same 24-hour lab accessed on three consecutive nights by reporters. Once inside the Chemistry Building, the lab is open for any who pass to rifle through computers, chemicals and scientific equipment.

“If the expectation is that the proctor is responsible for police action and security, the answer is ‘no,'” Rithner said. “It’s not a security job. The proctor is basically a point person or a general contact for Facilities.”

Rithner, who has been with CSU for 19 years, says he’s had problems with Facilities Management in the past, but still respects the hard work coming from the department.

He said doors are left unlocked for three main reasons: Facilities Management overlooking open entries, door mechanics and students propping doors open.

“The very people who are charged with maintaining, servicing and keeping this building safe are, in fact, the ones who are breaking it down,” Rithner said. “For many, many months I fought an ongoing battle with Facilities over their people coming in and leaving the doors chained open and leaving it.”

Once in the CIF lab, Collegian reporters had access to chemicals such as ether and chloroform – both of which have recreational drug uses and can be fatal if used irresponsibly. There were dozens of computers and “several million dollars” worth of equipment, although much of it is bulky and immobile.

“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 or having someone acting as a vandal,” Rithner said.

Dexter Yarbrough, chief of the CSU Police Department, has been aware of campus security concerns, including findings in a Collegian investigation one year ago highlighting some of the same security breaches.

“I have sent several messages to the university community explaining that all of us must join in a proactive partnership to assist with this problem,” Yarbrough said in a statement Tuesday. “While the entire university has more work to do in this regard, more members of the university community are reporting suspicious behavior and making sure that office and laboratory doors are more secure.”

The chief issued a second statement yesterday that read: “The locking and securing of buildings, offices and laboratories is not solely the responsibility of the CSU Police Department.”

Eating the cost

Rich Schweigert, the interim vice president of Administrative Services, says thefts come out of the pockets of students and taxpayers.

CSU loses about $300,000 a year to theft.

“The university is a small city, and it’s just like any other city,” Schweigert said. “When you steal something in that city, at the end of the day, it costs everybody in that city.”

Depending on the university insurance coverage, lower-cost items are not absorbed by insurance. Sometimes a department will bite the bullet, but in Rithner’s case he must find additional funds in state or federal grants handed down to the CIF.

“If there is a university asset stolen, then the department that owns it. If it’s a small-dollar amount, it’s probably going to absorb that cost,” Schweigert said. “You can’t say just one group is affected. In essence, the university loses that asset, and when it is repurchased, it’s a cost to the university.”

According to documents from the office of the Vice President for Administrative Services, CSU paid about $60,000 in insurance deductibles resulting from thefts on campus and received nearly $275,000 in claim payments since 2001. Most of thefts were stolen equipment, such as computers, cameras and audio/visual material.

The university is taking steps to address after-hours thefts. In coming years, CSU plans to upgrade to an electronic cardkey system that officials say will reduce thefts at night.

For more information about the system, read tomorrow’s Collegian.

To leave a news tip for Collegian Investigates, call 491-1684 or send it to news@collegian.com.

Collegian staffers James Baetke, J. David McSwane and Vimal Patel can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Part 3: An electronic cardkey system could alleviate after-hours thefts

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