Details of Children's Theatre thefts disclosed Crimes & Incidents, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Mar 7, 2008 at 9:06 am
On a weekend in mid-June 2007 someone used a small knife or pointed tool to pick open an improperly installed main-door lock on the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, leaving with dozens of large and small items, the Weekly has learned.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 7, 2008, 6:36 AM
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 9:06 am
It seems to me that once a burglary had been found to have taken place, it would make sense to make a complete inventory of all valuables and discover what exactly had been taken. To have not done this at the time shows poor decision making by the police, for not making sure it had been done, the City for insisting that it should be done, and the staff for not doing a complete inventory.
It is sad that if the theatre had been more organised, none of this can of worms would have had to have happened. It only takes a small spark to get a fire going. A small burglary, in this instance, has sparked a huge shambles.
Posted by it's time for a change, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 9:22 am
> Some of the traveler's checks -- left over from parent-funded
> trips to take the young actors to see performances in Ashland, Ore.
> and Southern California or to perform in Georgia
It will be interesting to see how long it takes the police to release details about the cash management practices which the palo alto city employee who was supposed to be in charge of these travelers' checks. It the checks were stolen and there was no procedures in place to account for the cash/checks--then such a theft could go unnoticed for months.
The outside auditor which the city employees yearly to review its books and cash management practices needs to explain this oversight.
With all of the items stolen, it's clear that there was no management interest in asset management--and the taxpayers paying over $100K for each of the "managers" whose names have been reported in the numerous articles on this situation.
Given the mess in the utility revealed a complete lack of management control in that department--and not the children's theater--it's not difficult to believe that this same lack of management control ripples throughout the whole of city government.
Posted by Daniel, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 10:39 am
I read this story and the accompanying one with great interest. As far as I can tell, the only crime that has been committed was the theft. No crimes on the part of the staff were uncovered. I still don't understand why staff are on forced administrative leave or why they are being investigated. Has Lynn Johnson erred so badly? Why has the City Manager so poorly managed this? I am beginning to agree with the folks that say this is beginning to stink. The only mismanagement I see has been by the police and city manager.
Posted by Take It Private, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 11:56 am
From the sketchy details revealed to date, it is clear that this situation is like a onion--with layers which have not yet been revealed.
The fact that travelers' cheques were found in East Palo Alto would have caused the police to ask--how did this happen? Were these financial assets stolen? Where were they kept? What cash/check management system was in place so that the employee(s) tasked with managing these assets could account for them?
Doubtless, the person(s) who were supposed to be accountable for these assets could not account for them. If they said--"Oh, I left them lying around on my desk", what is a police investigator supposed to make of that?
The underlying problem here is that when people write checks to the Children's Theater (for whatever reason) that money becomes public property. The fact that the money is intended to pay for a off-site trip is one thing, but in order for the City to account for all funds the money needs to be deposited in a City account associated with the Children's Theater and then invoices cut to pay for the expenses which are associated with the off-site activity/expenses.
If these procedures were not in place, or not followed to the letter--how does the public employee who is accountable answer the question: "where is the money" in a way that is provable? If the money (negotiable financial assets such as travelers' cheques) was never properly handled, then how can the police know that the assets were, in fact, stolen?
In all likelihood, the Administrative suspensions have to do with an inability of the top Administrators to account for assets which subsequently have been found, and are possibly linked, to the alleged theft.
One layer of this onion will be the theft, and another will be lack of administrative procedures which, in effect, aided and abetted theft of public property at this public facility.
The reasons for the City's actions will be forthcoming .. people just have to be patient.
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 11:59 am
I'm glad to see the time line of the events in the Weekly article. After Miranda discovered the missing tripod on July 7, an immediate inventory should have been done by the Children's Theater staff. But it wasn't until Oct. 4 that more equipment was discovered to be missing. Was an inventory performed at that time? Also I'm puzzled at the lack of staff responsibility in accounting for issued checks at least monthly.
It is not the responsibility of either the City Manager's office or the police to manage the Theatre's operation. They can only respond to events reported by the Theatre staff.
Because of city mandated budget cuts, the police have been operating with reduced staff. Sgt. Yore has done an outstanding job in investigating this and several other crimes at the same time.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 1:22 pm
Hmmm... I'm not so such about those city mandated budget cuts. The city just agreed to build the cops a whole new building. Moreover, infrastructure like police and fire have always been a priority.
It is the City Manager's job to manage the police (or so Frank Benest seems to think since the article says he approves police press releases). Ultimately, Police Chief Johnson is responsible for Yore's conduct - which is far from exemplary. Yore has a reputation for being complete nut case. Clearly, a more sensitive and reasoned approach - that didn't involve shutting the theatre and alleging the staff have committed tens of thousands of dollars of financial irregularities.
Posted by Take It Private, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 2:40 pm
The fact that theater projector equipment was removed from boxes--which were then repacked and re-stacked screams "inside job".
It's difficult to believe that a thief is going to rent a U-Haul from the town next door, and drive around randomly through Palo Alto and somehow pick the Children's Theater to break into, spy these projectors, remove the projectors from their boxes and then repack them.
This is clearly the work of people who have been in the theater building and probably have worked there.
About a year ago, the city began to require background checks for volunteers in the library. This was in response to a spate of child molestation incidents that have occurred around the country. So far, the press has not asked the question as to whether or not background checks were in place for the people working in the Children's Theater. If so, then the identity of the thief is in the stack of background checks.
If these background checks have not been conducted, then this represents an even bigger problem. A problem which is not directly connected to the theft, but it does represent an issue about the city's obligation to protect the children who are in this program when they are on site.
Additionally the question comes up whether or not the names of the volunteers were even recorded. The management of the Children's Theater should have the names and addresses and some identification such as a driver's license number of all who had any role on this site, so that if there were problems which resulted from anything from theft to misconduct of people who were volunteering on City property the city would have some information about these individuals to begin to deal with the cleanup of the problem that they might have created.
If the management of the city of the Children's Theater had just let people from "who knows where" onto City property and involve themselves in City-supervised activities without adequate identification, this represents another problem which could have exposed to the taxpayers of the city of Palo Alto to millions of dollars of liability suits.
> On a weekend in mid-June 2007 someone used a small
> knife or pointed tool to pick open an improperly installed
> main-door lock on the Palo Alto Children's Theatre
The matter of an "improperly installed main-door lock" opens a number of door of inquiry:
1) Who installed the lock?
2) Who inspected the work?
3) What is the basis of the lock's being "mis-installed"?
4) Did anyone on the Children's Theater know that the lock
was improperly installed?
5) Why were there no surveillance cameras operating in the
Locks are important--one would like to believe that locks and other security apparatus was installed where needed, and in good working order. In this case--it would appear not to be the case. Who will be held accountable for this failure?
The Chief of Police has argued in Council Chambers that she does not want surveillance cameras in Palo Alto, or words to that effect. Certainly she has not pushed for these devices to be installed on City sites--when they might have discouraged theft or at least provided much needed information about the perpetrators.
The Chief of Police needs to be asked again--why she does not want surveillance cameras in places where they can help protect public assets.
The cameras doubtless have identification information. Did the Children's Theater have records which provide the police the IDs so that they might begin to inquire into re-seller markets and repair operations to possibly locate this equipment? Certainly other theaters would be likely customers--have the police sent out inquires to other theaters to determine if this equipment has been purchased as "second-hand"?
The list of issues that involve the Children's Theater management, and other City management, grows every day.
Posted by Confused, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 2:43 pm
OK, I'm a little confused - didn't all the missing items come from the Friends of PACT? Why are the police looking into items that were gifts or purchases thru Friends? How much CITY money was spent on the missing items? How is the line drawn? If Friends buys projectors, do they become CPA property? Wouldn't it have been cheaper to fly Leon Kaplan here than send 2 detectives to Texas? I hope this all works out such that Pat and Michael are exonerated and the police don't look incompetent.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 2:46 pm
T I P
These questions are exactly what the enquiry should be looking into. If the police are doing this, then they are doing their job. There has been very little apparent accountability and these are the types of questions that should be asked by a caring community. If the staff were not doing their jobs adequately, then regardless how nice they were, they did not deserve to be in charge. Sloppy office work is no excuse.
If the police are not doing this then perhaps in depth reporting on these issues should take place by our local crime journalists.
Posted by Totally out of control, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2008 at 3:17 pm
Believe me, this all started happening with the implementation of SAP. When you get so many hands in the pot, this is what happens. Hey, think they have controls, but believe me, it is totally out of control.
Posted by litebug, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 1:20 am
I have twice carefully read the 2 articles in Friday's Weekly and I can see no reason for the city manager's draconian actions against the creative staff of the Children's Theatre. I see nothing yet that would justify such cruel and extreme action on his part. It seems suspiciously way over the top. Sniff Sniff...this is where the worst of the bad smell seems to be coming from. Isn't that guy on his way out of town to another job? (Don't let the screen door hit you where the Good Lord split you, Frank!) Can't anything be done to reverse his decision, particularly since he's a lame duck?
It does appear that there was inadequate building security. Why no good locks and no alarm system? Whose responsibility is it to make the physical plant secure? Surely not Ms. Briggs! Wouldn't this be the City of P.A.? Is there lack of adequate building security across the entire complex at that location or is/was that true for only the Children's Theatre? Who maintains these buildings? Who performs janitorial services and delivers supplies? There are always many people coming and going at a facility like that. Any of them could have spotted an opportunity to come back later and commit the burglary. I don't think just the mere act of replacing the empty containers automatically makes it an "inside job". The crooks could have taken that extra moment with the hope that no one would notice the missing items until later on, possibly giving them time to unload them before anyone knew they were stolen. If they were able to load a U-Haul they must have had quite some time unobserved. Honestly, this just sounds like a rather ordinary burglary to me. There were missteps in not stopping and taking a detailed inventory as soon as any theft was found but that would seem to be the fault of the PAPD. They are the ones who should know proper procedures to follow when a crime has taken place. FREE THE STAFF!
Posted by RE: take it private, a resident of another community, on Mar 8, 2008 at 4:59 am
You talk an awful lot for someone who doesn't really know what happened. The theatre has a security alarm system in place, though no cameras, the day the burglary was discovered, it was also discovered that both the security alarm wire and fire alarm wire had been cut. In addition, background checks ARE REQUIRED of any city staff who work with children, obviously, all employees at the theatre fall into this category. As for locks and, the theatre had routinely called the city to repair malfunctioning roll-doors and other security risks. As for the allegations of an inside job, the person most aware of the location on these items was the tech director, who isn't a suspect in the investigation. And as for an inventory not being done, there simply wasn't time, the theatre was putting up 10 shows in 10 weeks, in addition to its summer conservatory program, there was not time for a complete inventory until after the summer was finished and the backstage area had been cleaned and organized.
Most important is this: ALL OF US need to grant all parties involved the presumption that they were and are acting in good faith until any mismanagement, criminal activity or professional misconduct on the hands of either police or theatre employees can be proven.
Posted by Take It Private, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 6:32 am
> As for the allegations of an inside job, the person
> most aware of the location on these items was
> the tech director, who isn't a suspect in the investigation.
From the article (and presumably the police report):
[The neatness of the replaced boxes also prompted theater staff to relate to police that whoever was responsible "knew the theater operation quite well," possibly indicating someone who had been involved with the theater.]
> obviously, all employees at the theatre fall into this category.
The question was raised about volunteers. Do all of the volunteers have background checks? The article does not discuss background checks actually having been conducted on EVERYONE associated with the Children's Theater.
> the theatre had routinely called the city to repair
> malfunctioning roll-doors and other security risks.
Not stated in the articles. Why aren't the police telling us this?
> And as for an inventory not being done, there simply wasn't time,
> the theatre was putting up 10 shows in 10 weeks
Maybe, just maybe, the inventory should have been more important than children's plays. Dropping one play off of the schedule in order to get the inventory done would have been in everyone's best interest. Without an inventory, who knows how much public property might have been stolen?
> On Aug. 4, a renter of the U-Haul van reported
> via a voicemail to Briggs that he found 40 checks scattered
> in the back.
This is intriguing .. did the "renter" have a name, or telephone number? Was the truck number and rental location specified in the call? Were the police notified at that time? Forty cheques would come to how many dollars? Was the voicemail saved so that the police could hear it? If not, why not?
Terms like "wad of travelers' cheques" seems more than a little vague, since the two people involved have long ago been arrested and tried. What's interesting is that the Weekly articles do not seem to have ferreted out the dollar amounts of cash and cheques/checks that were stolen, or turned up in the possession of this couple. Perhaps the police haven't released that information, but it is important in understanding how these travelers cheques were managed in the office of the person whose name is on the cheques.
It would also be interesting to know how long these cheques had been in the possession of the person named on the cheques. When were they issued? Why were they issued? Shouldn't they have been spent on designated activities? What is the procedure in place to deal with left over money? Should it not be returned to accounting? Isn't leaving negotiable cheques in the hands of an employee without any clear accounting less than an intelligent accounting practice?
Lots of questions here. Hopefully one of the papers will dig into this properly.
Posted by Steve, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 8:18 am
It appears that the only "digging" has been done by the San Carlos and EPA police. While the PA police are hung on characterizing kid's costumes as embezzlement, the real police work was done out of town. I have no idea why this this has done down this way, but it makes the PAPD look pretty feeble.
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 8:43 am
Daniel. With regard to police budget cuts please refer to the City Auditor's annual publication "Service Efforts and Accomplishments" Report 2006-07, page 58, note that police staffing has been reduced from 97 sworn officers to 93. I hear the City's Finance Committee may consider another cut for the next budget year.
Are you familiar with how the case has been conducted so that you know Yore's conduct "has been far from exemplary"? Yore is not a "nut case". Many bloggers have made unsubstantiated statements about police conduct. This does not help to solve the case and find out what actually happened.
Posted by use your brain.com, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 10:17 am
Throughout my years of living I have learned many valuable principles. I will fill you in on one of these principles since it appears that many of the folks here don't grasp this concept: "Don't believe everything that you hear or read."
Just because someone says it, doesn't make it factual. Just because a newspaper publishes it, doesn't make it factual.
The police haven't released their side of the story yet, so lets wait to see what happens, and then based on all the information make a decision. I think many of us are too quick to bull-rush and make assumptions based on only half of the information.
Posted by Outsider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 10:19 am
If I own a business and have a property with my business going on, I might hire a director to run that business out of that property on my behalf. I would expect that director to run that business. I would expect that director to ensure that security, maintenance, accounting, etc. was being done in a businesslike manner. I would also expect the director to run the actual business for what the property was designed for. If any of these things were not being done to my satisfaction, I would fire the director.
This is what a business, a franchise, a branch office, whatever you like to call it, does. The theatre is the same. If there were problems in the way the theatre was being run, it is the director who is to blame. Someone above said it was not the creative Pat Briggs who should be responsible. If she was being paid $100k to direct/manage the theatre, the buck stops with her.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 10:19 am
I understand why people are interested and worried about this investigation because it’s very unusual for Palo Alto and a lot of oxen are being gored.
What I don’t understand is the level of concern over this issue compared to the negligible attention paid to the utility rate increase – the third in as many years – which affects all of us. Where are all the postings protesting the fact that Utilities gives a chunk of our utility payments to the general fund (about 25% of the GF comes from Utilities)? Or about the city charging Utilities roughly $10 million rent each year for property the city gets from Stanford University for practically nothing. Or about the city’s decision to use our money to pay for the police building without a vote? How much of our utility payments will go toward that police building?
I’m not trying to change the topic here. Just wondering why some city actions trigger such passionate response and others slip by unnoticed.
Posted by People, read the UHaul Theft article, a resident of the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 12:16 pm
Please everyone read the attached article on the Uhaul van thefts. Approximately one week after the theater breakins, a young couple allegedly "found" missing travelers checks from the theater and then tried to cash the checks.
Why didn't PAPD get a warrant to see who rented the trucks? Why didn't PAPD serve a warrant on the couple who cashed the checks home and see if the missing projectors were at their crime lair in east palo alto. All of the police work could have been done right in EPA, less than five minutes from PAPD headquarters.
Instead a PAPD detective flew to Texas with an accountant to question the former head of the theater about PACT costume sales months later. Again months later, the theater was ordered closed by CPA. How convenient.
Connect the dots...someone at the city did not want to follow up on the obvious perpetrators, and instead tried to build a criminal case on innocent people's lives, whose only fault was perhaps a messy desk. But it did end up closing the theater, was that their objective all along?
Posted by litebug, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 4:30 pm
It is unfortunate that there are a very few people in these Children's Theatre case discussion threads who attempt to bully, denigrate, impose a litmus test upon, or silence other participants with whom they disagree. The interesting thing is that these tactics are selectively employed. Some people are making some very strong statements, and even naming names, with no repercussions from these bully participants, while others of us have gotten slammed more than once for less. Go figure.
Posted by Get Real, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2008 at 6:01 pm
People need to stop blaming the City Manager or Police. If some one wants to commit a crime it does not matter what controls you have in place. If you do not agree you have not had a long enough experience or you have been lucky! Wait for all the facts to be made public before you judge. There is not a single person in the world that can prevent actions from happening, so get real!!
When people feel that they have power or are protected they will do things you would normally not think about. This is not a slam dunnk investigation and people involved are covering their tracks very carefully. There are some long standing traditions involved and the people involve know the truth, but don't want to face it. The person in Texas knows more than he is willing to share, but is trying to do damage control - don't fall for it!!!
It is not about a few thousands that belonged to the Friends!! Some of you Parents know what has really happened. Some of you politicians know as well!! Don't go blaming staff alone!! It is time for reality, so stop the stupid comments!!
Posted by Responder to Get Real, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2008 at 7:03 pm
My child has done a couple of plays at the theater, Real, and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HAS HAPPENED. I started to read this forum just exactly to figure out what is really going on. After several months, I am more confused than ever. I do not know who cut the fire alarm and burglary alarm wires, who mysteriously moved the projectors from the boxes, and how 50 or more theater traveler checks ended up last June in the back of an EPA Uhaul truck. What do you know?
Posted by No Deposit, No Return, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2008 at 8:18 am
If there were any unused funds in the form of travellor's checks - that were suppossed to be used to pay exclusively for children's expenses, why didn't Ms. Briggs return the money to the rightfull owners? There was no action of any kind to deposit the funds into a "scholarship" account or any other reasonable business practice to account for this leftover funding.
I hope Ms. Briggs has detailed receipts for the travellor's checks she did cash.
Posted by Carol Crewdson, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 18, 2008 at 10:45 am
I didn't know much about the actual details of the case until recently, but I think it's ridiculous to pin this on Pat, Rich, Allison, and Michael. The theater has always been open to kids and employees walking around, and anyone who spent more than a few shows there could have the opportunity to get to know the layout of the theater and where things are kept. I can't believe that any of the senior staff could be involved in this, or junior staff for that matter. It's a total witchhunt.