Burglars Make Off With Computers, Parts in Schools

Times Staff Writer

Thieves apparently armed with crowbars and a knowledge of computers have burglarized several south Orange County schools in the last two weeks, stealing computers and computer parts and breaking into safes, authorities said Wednesday.

Because in some cases the thieves have removed only parts, leaving the rest of the computers behind, the extent of the losses have yet to be determined, according to Bill Dawson, Capistrano Unified School District assistant superintendent in charge of facilities.

"We won't know how much damage was done until we get the computers into the shops," he said. "We don't even have a guesstimate yet."

Security Stepped Up

The district has decided to move computers to a central location and improve security at its schools, most of which are unused during summer vacation, Dawson said.

Between last Thursday and Sunday, two elementary schools in Laguna Niguel, as well as a high school and a junior high school in San Clemente, were burglarized. Personal computers taken in the San Clemente burglaries are worth about $2,500, police said. Thieves also struck an elementary school in Mission Viejo last week.

Dawson said that burglars apparently obtained a copy of the key used to lock the computers into place, using it to defeat anti-theft devices which enclosed the computers in steel cages.

In addition to stealing computer parts, the burglars have broken into safes in search of cash and have ransacked offices. Correne Barr, a Capistrano spokeswoman, however, said she doubts that the break-ins are the work of juveniles.

"We don't think they're kids. These are not typical kid pranks," she said. "These people apparently have been using heavy-duty prying equipment to get into our safes."

Sheriff's detectives and San Clemente police are conducting the investigations. No arrests have yet been made, and Sheriff's Lt. Dick Olson said few leads exist at this time.

In the Saddleback Valley district, schools will be closely watched by custodial and maintenance staff to prevent future break-ins, Harrison said.

"Just because the schools are closed and we don't have any teaching staff doesn't mean that nobody's there." he said. "We will be checking periodically to see that our schools are secure."

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