The University Police Department is investigating whether the theft of more than $20,000 worth of musical instruments from the music department over winter break was an organized job. Students at other area universities have reported similar thefts recently.
UPD Director Dolores Stafford said the fact that all the instruments at GW vanished at the same time from the same place without any evidence points to a premeditated crime.
“On the surface, they have a high probability of being done by the same person or persons,” Stafford said.
Stafford said she was notified that instruments were also taken from the University of Maryland, Catholic University and American University in recent months.
Since Dec. 20, seven GW students have reported nine instruments stolen, all believed to be taken over winter break. Stafford said it is difficult to put an exact value on the total loss because some of the incident reports did not include dollar values for the stolen items.
Leonard Jukkala, crime prevention coordinator at American University, said two trumpets were stolen from padlocked music department lockers in October.
“It was definitely a big hit,” he said. “They were expensive and very personal to the artist.”
Jukkala was unsure of the value of the stolen instruments.
Stafford said more UPD officers patrol the music department more frequently now, because it is classified as a “special attention area.”
Stafford said GW officials discussed additional security measures in the music department during winter break after the first few thefts were discovered.
These measures could include a system of cameras, GWorld card readers to access the building or both. Stafford said the department might also switch to a locker design that incorporates locks into the doors, rather than relying on students to use padlocks that can be disabled bolt-cutters.
But Stafford stressed that new equipment and more officers alone will not stop theft outright.
“Viewing a locker as completely secure is a big mistake when they can be opened in a matter of 10 seconds,” she said. “Any equipment we put in is only a level of deterrence. If we catch someone doing something on camera and he’s only on campus that (one time), identifying that person is going to be very tough.”
Stafford recommends that students keep instruments in their homes when they are not being used.
Sophomore Jacob Keaton, who plays the cello, said it surprising that UPD recommends keeping instruments at home when students pay locker fees for the convenience and security of keeping them in the music department.
Senior Sydney Solow said she would never again keep her instruments in GW lockers.
“A lot of people are asking me if the University is going to pay me. I have heard nothing from UPD,” Solow said.
Director of Risk Management Barry Dempsey said GW might be accountable for negligence if someone complained about the lockers being unfit to hold the instruments.
Dempsey said he was not sure of the facts and has not received complaints from any of the theft victims and therefore has not looked into the incident.
American University is conducting its on investigation.
“We reported the thefts to Metro police but have had no luck catching the thieves,” Jukkala said.
Jukkala said thieves could profit from stolen instruments at several stores in the area that buy used instruments or by putting them up for auction on the Ebay Web site.
“There are stolen instruments all across the eastern seaboard that are being sold,” he said.
-Josh Riezman contributed to this report