APS thefts, vandalism up over holidays

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District on alert

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – From the far Northeast Heights to the South Valley, thieves and vandals have made a habit of breaking into schools across the metro, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. District officials said there is an uptick in crime when schools are out for winter and summer breaks, and they are making sure property is protected over the holidays.

“It’s very tough, and we have 142 schools and every one of them has computers,” APS Chief Operations Officer Brad Winter said. “It’s city wide. It’s north, south, east and west.”

According to APS police records, there have been more than 400 reported cases of break-ins and vandalism of school property over the last three years. In July 2013, 17 schools were targeted in just 15 days, including one at Cibola High School on July 21 where vandals broke 16 windows, stole 10 computers, flushed toilet paper down whole and deployed fire extinguishers in classrooms. Officials estimated the damage between $30,000 to $40,000.

“It’s taxpayer money that’s given to the schools so we can educate kids. That’s the point,” Winter said. “But these folks don’t see it that way. They see it as quick, easy money.”

Winter said APS has been a target of a large computer ring theft this year. He called it the worst he’s seen in his career. More than half a million dollars worth of computers have been lifted from schools in a ten-month period. Winter said many of those computers are still being recovered.

Just halfway through this school year, Winter said they’ve racked up $135,000 in vandalism and $150,000 in thefts.

“It’s appalling because,” said Randy Shutts, whose granddaughter attends Tomasita Elementary School. “All they’re doing is taking away from the kids, and the kids need it more than they do. All they’re going to do is go out and sell it for drugs or something like that. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”

Winter said the district is asking the legislature for more money to install cameras at schools. Each campus has at least one security camera.

“They can be a deterrent. They can’t stop anyone from breaking in, but usually the cameras these days are very good pictures,” Winter said.

The district is also working to fortify more doors and windows, especially in rooms that house pricey equipment. APS’ 56 police officers are also stepping up patrols, including overnights and weekends.

But Winter said there’s only so much the district can do on its own.

“We really rely on our neighborhood folks that are around those schools,” Winter said. “If they see anything suspicious to call APS police and a lot of them do, and it really does help, it really does help.”

Classes resume on Jan. 6.

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