Valuable items reported stolen from May Hall: faculty concerned about lack of cameras and security in academic buildings

May Hall, the oldest building on campus, basks in the warm spring sunlight. (Donald Halsing / THE GATEPOST)

In late March, Yumi Park Huntington, art history professor, called FSU police to report that 11 of her 51 African arts books were stolen from seminar room 322 across from her office in May Hall.

Last semester, Dec. 12, Erika Schneider, art history professor, said she reported her laptop stolen from her office after she left for “two minutes” to microwave her lunch down the hall.

FSUPD Sgt. Martin Laughlin said theft in May Hall has “more recently” posed a problem.

Park Huntington said, “Somehow, it has become a regular routine. … We are really worried about the situation. I’ve been here for only two years, but according to other professors who have been here for decades, it has never really happened before.”

According to Sgt. Robert Barrette, in 2015, nine incidents of theft in academic buildings were reported. In 2016, seven thefts were reported in academic buildings. And in 2017, the number decreased again to five reports of theft.

As of the 2018-2019 academic year, Laughlin said, “It is tough right now to go back to 2018 and 2019. Usually, obviously, when no one is here, everything slows down, but we don’t have a high volume of thefts. Whether we be in a town or state, we are still going to get those calls of items being stolen.”

Unlike any other academic building, May Hall is open and unlocked around the clock. There is no full time security for the building.

Laughlin said security officers do regular checks and walkthroughs of the building two times per shift. “We have a security officer who actually goes door-to-door checking on the classrooms.”

All together, Park Huntington said she paid approximately $480 out of pocket to replace nine of the 11 stolen books, and was reimbursed by the FSU art department.

The other two books could not be replaced since they are “valuable” and currently not currently available for purchase.

One of the two books that could not be replaced was an encyclopedic African arts book that was worth approximately $300 and is currently “out-of-print,” said Park Huntington. The other book was an exhibition catalogue from the University Press of Florida, worth almost $180.

“Someone probably knows about those very expensive books and the value of those books. They were fairly new and good-quality books,” she said.

Once Park Huntington realized some of her books were missing, she said she took all of the other books back to her office, reported the theft to FSUPD, and sent an email to faculty members and students about the missing books.

An officer stopped by her office and asked for any leads, but once Park Huntington told them she had no leads, the officer said there was nothing they could do.

Schneider said when she noticed her laptop was stolen, she immediately reported the theft to FSUPD since the laptop was FSU property. FSUPD notified the State Police.

“They basically said that there was no way to find it, even looking at security tapes, because the person probably hid it when leaving the building,” she said.

Schneider said through the University tracking device, ITS later briefly located the laptop in Ukraine before the computer was “wiped.”
The art department used its funds to help Schneider buy another laptop, “since FSU does not have insurance to cover all the laptops used by faculty,” she said.

Although there are no security cameras located in May Hall, security cameras outside the building are located near the 15-minute parking areas in front of May and near Crocker Hall, said Barrette.
Laughlin said he did not “have an answer … as to why” there are no cameras inside the building.

In addition, Laughlin said the security cameras outside of May “are not facing May itself, but facing it to an extent.”

Barrette said the “Crocker Hall camera can kind of see the rear entrance of May Hall.”

As for other academic buildings, Barrette said the cameras have “pretty good coverage around campus.”

Laughlin said, “We just don’t want to tell everyone where the camera angles are at. … We have over 99 cameras on campus. … I don’t know exactly where all the cameras are located.”

In early April, a student reported a “suspicious male” at 7:30 p.m. roaming the ground floor of May Hall and glancing into the studio rooms. According to Laughlin, the male was wearing FSU colors and carrying a backpack.

The description of the male was “vague,” according to Laughlin. “We checked all camera angles … but we didn’t see the person described. … Granted, just because a guy was seen on the bottom floor of May Hall does not make him a suspect.”

Park Huntington said in regards to bettering the security of May Hall, she wished the hallways had cameras. “At least if something is missing, you can clearly see and detect the person involved. … Then, these kinds of incidents will probably be reduced and not happen … or they can be caught.”

Schneider said, “FSU is an open campus, so there is no way to secure the grounds, but perhaps buildings should have access codes. I’m certainly never leaving my office open again, which I have done since having my office in May Hall since 2009. I like to have an open-door policy to meet with students, but I don’t feel safe leaving my office unattended even for a minute. Hopefully, students will be more cautious than I was.”

Laughlin said a card-entrance system could “realistically” help.

He added, “Looking at the dynamics of the building – I’m not a contractor – I’m far from it. I don’t know what it would take to put it in there. You still got to keep in mind that those sheltered doors are always open. Say I scan in, you scan in, somebody else scans in, then somebody else goes through the back door – we don’t have an account for them entering the building.”

Laughlin added, “What we recommend to anyone: if something is stolen, call us right away because we have cameras. Well, hopefully, we have cameras, but it all depends on how they are located. … Our hope, to better help us serve the community, is for you to call us right away, rather than waiting an hour or 15 to 20 minutes later.”