By Bob Paslay
Thieves have made off with 255 computers from schools in Clayton County in the last three years, and an official said security steps are being stepped up to stem this growing crime.
The loss amounted to more than $350,000, according to Steve Holmes, executive director of Information Technology for the 50,000-student school system.
"Computer theft is becoming a serious problem. There is a $10 billion lost a year nationally and it is growing at a rate of 25 percent," Holmes said.
Holmes said some of the methods the school system is using to slow down the thefts are making it harder to get to the computers and hard to haul them away if they do get to them, but he said one or more things are being done that the district doesn't want to say to tip off the thieves.
The computers stolen since 2003 are 182 laptops and 73 desktops.
"Easy to carry also means easy to steal," Holmes said in explaining the number of laptops taken.
"We are doing everything we can do" to stop this theft, Holmes said.
Every laptop now has a "tattoo" that is the seal of the Clayton County School system. Unlike a stick-on identification the tattoo is actually imbedded in the plastic so it can't be removed. This means that even if one of the laptops is snatched it would be harder to fence because it would be clear it was stolen from the school system.
Teachers who use their laptops in class are now required to sign a statement that the will take their computer with them when they leave the classroom. This makes it harder to find a computer that is unguarded.
For the tabletop computers, they are being bolted to the computer tables with four different kinds of screws which means a thieve would have to have four different tools to unbolt them. The screws themselves are unique enough that the tools are readily available.
In addition, all school buildings have security systems designed to stop any break-ins at night.
So far, police have only recovered seven stolen laptops.
Some are inside jobs and a worker for a contractor doing work for the schools was arrested for stealing some computers, Holmes said.
In the past, a cart containing a number of computers was kept at various schools, and in one instance when a thieve broke into one school the theft of one cart resulted in the loss of 15 computers. The system is now storing its computers in a way to cut down on this multiple theft.
Clayton County schools were paying $50,000 a year for a security tracking system designed to help at least recover stolen computers, but Holmes said the tracking recovered only one computer and wasn't worth the cost.
The following is a breakdown of the losses by schools:
Alternative School, 2; Anderson Elementary, 1; Babb Middle, 3; Brown Elementary, 2; Callaway Elementary, 13; Church Street Elementary, 22; East Clayton Elementary, 1; Forest Park High, 1; Fountain Elementary, 1; Harper Elementary 12; Hawthorne, 20; Haynie Elementary, 2; Hendrix Drive Elementary, 1; Jackson Elementary, 1; Jonesboro High 26; Jonesboro Middle, 1; Kemp Elementary, 13.
Also, Kendrick Middle, 10; Kilpatrick Elementary, 12; King Elementary, 1; Lake Ridge Elementary, 2; Lee Street Elementary, 1; Lovejoy High, 3; Lovejoy Middle, 5; M.D. Roberts Elementary, 2; McGarrah Elementary, 2; Morrow High, 10; Morrow Middle 1; Mount Zion Elementary, 4; Mount Zion High, 4; Mundy's Mill High, 2; Mundy's Middle, 2; Northcutt Elementary, 6; North Clayton High, 8; North Clayton Middle, 2; Oliver Elementary, 38; Point South Elementary, 1; Point South Middle, 3; Riverdale High, 16; Swint Elementary, 1; Tara Elementary, 1 and West Clayton Elementary, 4.
The 14 other schools in the district had no thefts.