PORTLAND – The city’s schools are insured for this week’s theft of 78 computers, but Superintendent James Morse is still appalled that someone took the new machines from the elementary school that’s under construction on Ocean Avenue.

“They were absolutely for kids. Stealing these computers is like stealing candy from a baby,” Morse said. “It’s pretty despicable.”

Thieves broke into the building between midnight and 2 a.m. Thursday, then broke into the locked classroom where the computers were stored in anticipation of their installation, said Lt. Gary Rogers, head of detectives for the Portland Police Department.

The computers — 33 Apple iMacs and 45 Apple MacBooks — were worth $60,000, Rogers said.

The sheer volume of the theft is surprising, he said, since it would take a long time to remove that many computers and load them into a vehicle. While 78 computers were taken, others were left behind.

The area where the school is being built has had several burglaries in recent weeks, but they involved cash registers. The computer theft required a great deal more time and effort.

Police hope the stolen computers will lead them to the thieves.

“Removing them from the school is a logistical issue for a thief. Trying to peddle these is going to be a logistical issue for a thief as well,” Rogers said. “Some people try to sell these on eBay or Craigslist.”

The computers are likely to be sold one by one because any effort to sell a large number of them would draw attention, he said.

That was the case in Westbrook two years ago, when 59 high-end computers, worth a total of $88,000 to $147,000, were stolen from a company’s warehouse.

A temporary warehouse worker was later charged in the theft, but many of the computers had already been sold or traded, Westbrook police said. Police recovered about a third of them.

The opening of the Ocean Avenue Elementary School has been pushed back from January to February or April, but that is unrelated to the theft, Morse said.

The district was notified recently that the concrete floor in the gym has not cured as quickly as the contractors had hoped, so they have been unable to install the finished flooring.

Officials will try to move students into the building after February or April vacation, Morse said. The computers should be replaced much sooner.

Once the school is ready, students will move from the Nathan Clifford Elementary School into the new building. Next September, students who live in the district served previously by the Baxter Elementary School will begin attending the new school.

Morse said the computers were stored in the new building because they were part of the infrastructure of the building. Contractors are still installing wiring and related technology.

School officials believed the computers were secure because they were in a locked room in a locked building, and because the contractors keep tens of thousands of dollars worth of materials on the site without problems, Morse said.

“The insurance company will eventually replace these machines,” Morse said. “It’s just discouraging to have anybody think the school is a great place to steal things.”

Police ask anyone with information to call 874-8533, or text an anonymous tip by sending the message GOTCHA plus the information to 274637 or “CRIMES.”

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]