Pleasant Hill, Calif., Middle School Repeatedly Burglarized

Sept. 30, 2004
Classrooms are alarmed but by the time guards can arrive, thefts are complete

Crooks have taken a recent liking to the computers and vending machines at Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill, California. In the last six months, the campus has been the victim of a rash of break-ins and other petty crimes.

Since May, the school has seen five break-ins and/or attempted burglaries, and a related incident in which a parent's car window was smashed, and a stolen purse during a recent Saturday soccer game at the school.

In all, the weekend incidents have resulted in the theft of seven classroom computers, totaling $7,000, according to school administrators and Pleasant Hill police.

The latest burglary of school property occurred Aug. 20, just before classes started, in which two Compaq computers were stolen from classrooms, with no apparent forced entry, said police Sgt. Dan Connelly.

Though the most recent event on Sept. 11 did not involve school property, it did occur on school grounds. A parent attending a soccer game returned to her car in the school parking lot to find the car window smashed and her purse stolen from the front seat at around 11:30 a.m., according to police department records.

Other incidents included attempted entry into classrooms through doors, and burglary of the campus student store.

Moreover, Principal Vivian Boyd said administrators regularly return to school on Mondays to find beer cans and other evidence of partying on school grounds.

"It seems to me that if soccer parents are also having cars broken into, somebody is working this area pretty good," Boyd said.

Classrooms are outfitted with alarm systems which alert school security. But security personnel oversee all schools in the Mt. Diablo school district, so by the time security alerts police and responds to the incident, those responsible are long gone, Boyd said.

It's not unusual for a school to become a repeated victim to burglary, said Connelly.

"I'm not going to say it's common, but schools do get broken into," he said. "I can't say that Sequoia is being targeted per se, but we are concerned with the number of burglaries that have occurred over there."

Police have made no arrests, and the five cases remain under investigation.

Authorities have little evidence so far, said Det. David Downs, in charge of the investigation. And there's very little to link the crimes, other than the similarity of forced entry on three incidents, and the fact that computers were stolen in each case.

"Just based on the fact it's the same school and time frame, we're probably dealing with someone who's been there more than once," Downs said.

"We experience this from time to time," he said. "When we start seeing patterns, we start taking precautions."

In light of the rash of burglaries, administrators at the school have installed additional procedures for securing classrooms, and spent more than $500 on more secure locks for rooms.

Additionally, police have increased patrols of the campus, Connelly said.

"It's important for us because kids and obviously teachers suffer," Downs said. "Or sometimes they can't replace (the stolen items)."

Boyd said Sequoia is using emergency maintenance funds to pay for replacement of the computers.

"In the process of replacing computers, it's money that could have been use for something else," Boyd said.