Computers stolen from photo classroom

The emptied computer cart in the photography studio. Photo by Madison Olsen

The emptied computer cart in the photography studio. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Flashback to June 7, the day students were registering for summer school. Among the hustle and bustle of students rushing around, the school custodians prepared the campus for the 2017-18 school year. By the end of the day, the commercial photography studio in Portable Five had 20 fewer MacBook Pros.

The custodian’s key wasn’t working well, so while she cleaned around the area they propped open the door. The custodian, who wished to remain anonymous, came back to the portable and found someone using the landline in the room. The intruder claimed to be from Austin ISD technology and that they were there to work on the computers. However, the trespasser didn’t have a badge.

“[The custodian] went to do something else, but had a funny feeling so she came back,” said Carey West, commercial photography instructor. “She saw him walking around the corner, and came in the room and noticed the computer cart was open and that computers were missing. At that point she called the police.”

The lock on the Computers On Wheels (COW) had been cut, and 20 out of the 30 computers in the cart had vanished just as quickly as the fake AISD computer technician had. The first report was filed by the Austin Police Department, but they didn’t initially fingerprint the cart. Later on, when the campus police filed their report, McCallum officer Mike Reilly fingerprinted and tried to track the computers. Even though the campus police and the APD launched an investigation, nothing came up on the fingerprints, and the description of the thief wasn’t enough to identify someone. Officer Reilly was unable to comment, since this is an ongoing investigation.

“There’s nothing [the police] can do at this point unless they can locate the computers,” West said. “The computers were supposed to have software that tracked them, but since the [computers] had not been turned on, there was no way to track them. But if anybody ever turns it on, I’ll find them.”

After the initial break in, the remaining laptops were moved into the library for the rest of the summer, but that didn’t stop the thief from attempting to break in again.

“They tried to break in two more times later at night,” West said. “The second time they took a crowbar to the door— the alarm went off and the police came out and made another report. The third time it was just an alarm set off. By the third time, they had welded a bar on the outside of my door to protect the computers. But the library wasn’t locked either, so it’s like they could have been stolen anywhere.”

Although the remaining computers were moved to the library for the rest of the summer, there are regulations in place that state they should’ve been there from the beginning.

“There’s a CTE thing that says computers shouldn’t be in the portables, but there was no space left [in the building], and that should have been done,” West said. “I locked the COW and all the cameras in the portable, which I’ve done in years past, and nothing had ever happened.”

West was given a set of desktop computers to replace the laptops, but the computers were recycled from Mr. Burnette’s room, which received new computers this year. Though the switch from two year old laptops to five year old desktops was certainly a downgrade, West has been making it work for her classroom, with better results than she expected. Since her classes are smaller this year, she has been able to manage the changes to her classroom environment.

“How I use my space has definitely changed, which is the hardest part,” West said. “Accommodating everybody in the space and having bigger desktops makes it so I can’t fit as many students as I could when I taught with the [laptops]. I can only fit in 26 comfortably and I’m trying to get rid of two, so, 24. It still works because my classes aren’t that big this year.”

Even though West was granted the same amount of computers she lost, the school still paid out of pocket for the consequences of the break in. The insurance deductible was $50,000, so the loss was $38,000. Since the laptops were grant funded, West believes it’s highly unlikely the photography class will get computers as expensive in the future.

“It’s disappointing because the thieves just come and steal from the school as if they aren’t consequences, but CTE can’t replace things that have been stolen,” West said. “These people think that they’re stealing from this endless recourse of technology or money because it’s a school funded, but it has an impact. You’re not just stealing from the man, you’re stealing from students and robbing them of opportunities [to learn].”

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