University confiscates student property deemed unsafe

Changes to inspection procedures have left some students missing their private property and calling confiscation of prohibited items unreasonable and invasive. GW has contracted a private company to conduct health and safety inspections previously performed by Community Living and Learning Center employees.

Last week the University announced that “highly trained and experienced professionals” from HRH Risk Mitigations have already begun the first of four room inspections to be completed this year. University officials said inspectors are required to “immediately confiscate any prohibited items” found during inspections, and said the action is needed to keep students safe. Students are not informed of the specific times and dates when their rooms will be searched, and students do not have to be present when the searches are conducted in their rooms.

Students do not have the opportunity to reclaim property that has been taken from their room, said Nancy Haaga, director for auxiliary and institutional services, adding that confiscated items are being donated to D.C. charitable organizations.

“Confiscated prohibited items will be immediately confiscated and disposed of via donation to charitable agencies,” Haaga wrote in an e-mail. “The University has communicated this no return/no reimbursement policy to students and parents in a variety of ways over the past several weeks.”

The University released the name of the private contractor late Friday, so The Hatchet was unable to contact HRH over the weekend. An HRH Web site indicates that Risk Mitigation provides services in pre-employment background screening and investigative services. Residence halls managed by Ambling are inspected by employees from that company. It is unclear which residence halls are managed by Ambling. Matt Lindsay, a spokesperson for the University, said he did not know which buildings are Ambling buildings.

Prohibited belongings inspectors are allowed to confiscate include pets, lofted beds, candles, halogen lamps, hotplates and toaster ovens in non-kitchen areas, space heaters, and microwaves or refrigerators not provided by the University. If inspectors find alcohol, contraband including pocketknives, drugs or drug paraphernalia, University Police will be contacted. Lindsay did not know how many items have been confiscated.

This year’s inspections are supervised and managed by the Office of Risk Management but were outsourced to a private company because it would “not be possible to recruit, hire and train GW employed inspectors in time for the start of the fall 2005 academic semester,” Haaga said.

“These changes were made to establish better, more effective and efficient management and oversight of the room inspection requirement to help ensure the well being of all residents and the safety of the community,” Haaga said.

On March 22 a fire broke out on the ninth floor of Thurston Hall. Investigators reported that a portable George Foreman-style grill ignited the fire, prompting a review that led to the more stringent inspections.

Some students said the inspections are unfair and they said they do not think the University should have the right to take students’ property.

Senior Ben Traverse, a Student Association senator (CCAS-U), wrote a letter to the University expressing his concern with the confiscation policy.

“My problem is that I don’t think the University has the authority to confiscate student property,” Traverse said. “I agree that the University has the right to come in and inspect your room, but it does not say they can take anything.”

Traverse cited the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines published by the CLLC’s Office of Housing Services, which encourages students to insure their property to protect against theft.

It is unclear how many items the University has confiscated from the inspections or which buildings have completed their first round of inspections.

“The notion of University-sponsored theft is nonsense and incorrect,” Haaga said. “The University undertook a comprehensive communications plan strategy to inform students as well as parents about the (inspection policy).”

“What they could do is instead of taking your stuff and never giving it back is take it and allow us to take it home at Christmas,” sophomore Lynnie Moore said.

The University disseminated information about the inspections through announcements during hall meetings, postcards and flyers in dorms, and e-mails to students and parents.

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