BOSTON - Hundreds of state-owned items, including many laptops and other electronics, have been lost or stolen since 2012, according to Massachusetts records obtained by FOX25 Investigates.
The value of the missing state property over that time is more than $1.5 million, but state watchdogs warn the value of sensitive information contained on some of those high-tech devices is even greater.
No single item was reported lost or stolen more frequently in Massachusetts than laptop computers.
- A MacBook Pro, worth $1640, lost by a UMass professor on a trip to Milan.
- Six Dell laptops, worth $6856, reported missing from Bridgewater State University.
- A $1300 laptop, lost after a State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board employee said it “fell out the back of his truck.”
In all, FOX25 Investigates tallied more than 250 laptops and other electronic devices, worth upwards of $300,000, reported missing over the last four years. Many of those items were lost by, or stolen from, staff, students and faculty of UMass schools and other state colleges and universities.
“There could be very sensitive information on these items and that could put people in danger,” said Chip Faulkner with taxpayer watchdog group, Citizens for Limited Taxation.
In 2012, UMass Boston reported a stolen laptop that contained the Social Security Numbers of 88 students. Another laptop, stolen from a residence in 2014, reportedly contained the personal information of 13 students.
“It’s easy to pick up a laptop, a smart phone or other device and walk off with it,” said Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump, whose office tracks reports of missing and stolen state property. “It’s a continuing challenge. I think it’s a growing challenge,” she said.
UMass Boston declined to be interviewed, but the UMass President’s Office e-mailed a statement to Fox 25 that reads, in part:
“UMass continuously strives to improve performance in this important area. Although losses represent a small fraction of the university’s capital assets, the theft of any piece of university property is an affront to the UMass community -- and to the Commonwealth and the taxpayers -- and cannot be tolerated.”
Snow Plow Blades, Gold Coins… and Cash
In addition to computers and other electronics, FOX25 Investigates uncovered a wide variety of state-owned items, from boat motors to a “decoy coyote,” has also disappeared.
In 2012, the Department of Developmental Services reported the theft of 10 snow plow blades worth almost $1800. An inventory check at the State Treasurer’s Office reportedly revealed two gold medallions, worth $2400, were missing.
Maybe most shocking, the Registry of Motor Vehicles still doesn’t know exactly what happened to a deposit bag containing more than $24,000.
According to the report filed in 2013, a courier picked up two deposit bags from the RMV in Fall River to be dropped at a Bank of America night deposit vault. Somehow, only one of the bags was actually deposited.
A spokesperson with Mass DOT declined to be interviewed, but e-mailed Fox 25 a statement:
“The Registry takes handling money very seriously. In 2013, when the money was reported missing, Massachusetts State Police began an investigation and determined that the checks were lost by the courier. The case was closed and there was no law enforcement action.”
Some taxpayer advocates, including Faulkner, aren’t satisfied.
“The fact that this stuff could be misplaced or missing is a black mark against the state,” said Faulkner. “The irony is that here all of these things are stolen, yet if the taxpayers are ever so much as a couple of days late on a payment… the state is on them like a wet suit.”
Bump says more state agencies, including universities, are now using hardware and software to track missing computers and shut down the devices remotely.
The UMass system declined interview requests, but a spokesperson for UMass Amherst e-mailed the following statement:
“The loss of any equipment and supplies is regrettable and impairs the educational mission of the state’s flagship campus. With more than 300 buildings on 1,450 acres, and nearly 35,000 students and employees, the University of Massachusetts Amherst is a small city with many of the same challenges that face communities across the state.
UMass Amherst is committed to providing a secure environment for its students, employees, resources and equipment. Over the past three years, the campus has invested about $500,000 in electronic door access and 34 buildings are currently equipped with those systems. In addition, there are more than 1,300 security cameras in place across campus, giving the university’s police department an additional tool to deter unauthorized entry and identify suspects in theft cases. All reported thefts are investigated by the police department, which then follows up with security audits and educational efforts with staff and faculty in the affected area to prevent future incidents.”
The UMass President’s Office also says the university tries to minimize losses with tracking software and tagging equipment, among other “best practices.”
“When theft does occur, UMass moves swiftly to investigate, recover assets and, in some cases, prosecute the individuals responsible,” wrote a UMass spokesperson.
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