FRCC is not without its own set of mysteries. Let us explore one mystory pulled from the past archives by Seth Ciancio. (All transcriptions are printed as is)
Volume 12, Number 4 February 1st 1999
Hidden Camera Found
In a scenario that still mystifies the staff, The Front Page student newspaper office at the Westminster campus appears to have been secretly set up for video surveillance – or used in a clever hoax by a disgruntled former college employee.
A time lapse camera and recorder were discovered in the office ceiling November 18, 1998. Since then, after several interviews with key personnel at Front Range Community College and an ongoing investigation by the Westminster police- plus a private investigator hired by the college- there are still many unanswered questions.
On November 17, The Front Page received an anonymous letter warning that surveillance cameras had been used in the past at FRCC, and specifically one in The Front Page office. The letter appeared to be some sort of confession by a former employee of FRCC. The writer explained why a camera was placed in the office, expressed remorse and apologized to The Front Page staff. According to The Front Page policy, the letter could not be printed because it was not signed.
After the staff read the letter, one member noticed an acoustical ceiling tile slightly askew from its grid. When he removed the tile, the ceiling revealed its secret- a video surveillance set-up. The surveillance camera and videocassette recorder were found and removed by the newspaper staff. The camera was not hooked up to the VCR, nor was the VCR plugged in. The power cord was hanging down the wall near an electrical outlet. A video tape, marked “Public Safety , #1” was in the VCR, but the tape was blank. A note, taped to the top of the VCR was written on a page from a desk-top calendar, dated Thursday, March 5, 1998. It said, “Put Back. (Expletive.) We Need One Camera.”
The anonymous letter further indicated that cameras were hidden to catch people or departments with which campus security allegedly had experienced problems. The letter also said The Front Page had published an article that made derogatory remarks about campus security.
Specifically, the article referred to a theft that had occurred in the FRCC west parking lot on January 27, 1998. The article appeared in the February 1998 edition of The Front Page. It gave examples of how security allegedly used cameras to catch posible thieves at FRCC. According to the author of the letter, students deserved an apology for any surveillance of The Front Page staff. Because the letter came without a signature, the staff admits its (page break) validity is left open to doubt. Simply addressed “Dear Front Range Newspaper,” the letter shows some knowledge of the procedures at FRCC. The use of surveillance cameras to combat theft is a fairly standard and legal practice in many public and private facilities. However, the legality of secretly using surveillance equipment on employees is questionable.
The Front Page adviser Mark Shaw reported the incident to FRCC administration on November 23, five days after it occurred. However, it was two weeks before the administration authorized a police investigation. The Monday following its discovery, Shaw informed FRCC Vice President of Finance and Administration Bob Rizzuto that a surveillance camera had been found in The Front Page office. Rizzuto said he was “shocked…l wanted to find out why.”
On December 3, Westminster police arrived at the newspaper office to take a report and seize the equipment. The two officers said the case was being treated as a theft because the
head of campus security, George Smith, indicated that the equipment had been stolen from his office several months before. According to police, this theft was never reported.
That night, police notified Smith of the developments. When the officers asked him about the camera, Smith said, “That disappeared six months ago.” Later, when asked to verify ownership, Smith said that he could do so not because it was “so old,” but he said “that looks like our equipment.” Smith told police, ‘That’s the one that was stolen,” and went on to say that public safety no longer has any surveillance equipment.
However, Bill McCracken, current head of facilities at FRCC, retains the only two surveillance cameras locked up as ordered by Vice President Michele Haney. Before McCracken assumed the position of facilities director in March of 1998, he said that a surveillance camera and VCR had been stolen from the college. He said that surveillance equipment had been utilized in “strategic locations to monitor activities” because there was a high incidence of theft around the school at the time.
When questioned about the authorization of surveillance equipment, McCracken said, “I personally do not put cameras anywhere; that has to come from the vice president.” McCracken, when told that a stolen property report had never been filed with the Westminster Police Department for the camera setup, said he did not know why.
Mike Redmond, director of facilities at FRCC until December 16, 1997, confirmed that some theft had been occurring at FRCC during his tenure. According to Redmond, his administration purchased and had been using surveillance equipment since 1996. Cameras were used to catch thieves at the change and soda machines as well as the tool and equipment sheds in the rear of the school. This surveillance, Redmond said, was authorized by FRCC President Tom Gonzales.
Redmond said, however, that Gonzales never autho- rized the use of cameras for surveillance in private offices. Redmond said that such surveillance would have to be done in conjunction with a police investigation. He went on to say that no cameras or other surveillance equipment were stolen while he was director of facilities. “At least not any that were reported to me,” he said.
Haney later said: “…my surprise was…God, I mean why would you put them (surveillance cameras) in The Front Page? I mean, that’s never been in any discussion I’ve ever been a part of. We would not even suggest that would be appropriate. That’s just not something you do.” Haney took over the position of Westminster site director in March 1998. She is responsible for the facilities department and must authorize the use of any surveillance equipment at FRCC, When facilities became her responsibility last year, Haney ordered the surveillance equipment locked up. Haney said she has not authorized any use of surveillance equipment on the Westmtnster campus since that time. However, Joe Valdez, a retired FRCC maintenance employee, was involved in an alleged surveillance incident that occurred in one of the maintenance department offices in February 1998. Valdez said that he and another maintenance employee found a working surveillance system in the ceiling of their office. Valdez said they removed the system, which was plugged in and turned on, from the ceiling and took it directly to Haney’s office in the middle of the night. They left a note with the equipment explaining the situation and later filed a grievance with the college.
According to Valdez, they had three or four meetings with administration about the incident but “they never did give us a satisfactory answer as to why that camera was put in our office.” They were repeatedly assured that the incident would not be swept under the carpet and the people involved would be reprimanded. Valdez said, to his knowlege[mistake in original paper, lol] nothing had ever been stolen from his office. “There was no reason whatsoever for that camera to be in our office,” he said.
Confronted with information that surveillance equipment was discovered in the maintenance offices last February, Haney said, “There were some situations that by privacy I can’t divulge to you. I really can’t share some information that occurred just as I took over.” Haney later said, “It was a personnel issue. It did not involve students.” Bob Rizzuto, while acknowledging that FRCC has two surveillance cameras locked up, denied any knowledge of the third surveillance camera found by The Front Page staff.
Bob Rizzuto told The Front Page the use of surveillance equipment had to be authorized by the vice president, but that it was a past FRCC practice to set up cameras to catch thieves. One incident was the placement of a surveillance setup in English instructor Tim Rizzuto’s office window to monitor the activities of people using the tool sheds and buildings on the northwest side of the building. Tim Rizzuto consented to the use of his office by security. According to him, that particular camera stayed in place “roughly a month” and when the thief was caught, the camera was removed.
The need to find out “why” all of this occurred led FRCC administration to hire Littleton private investigator Bill Blake of Blake and Associates. Rob Rizzuto, when asked why FRCC administration felt it should hire an investigator, said Westminster police are only handling the case as a stolen property claim.
He went on to say, “It’s really something that I didn’t want our security department to look into. That didn’t make any sense.” He said the school needed a “third party opinion.” Blake, accountable only to the FRCC administration, questioned The Front Page staff, its advisers, members of security and other faculty. “He has talked to a lot of people in the last several days,” Rizzuto said.
To date, George Smith, head of security, has had no comment for The Front Page and calls to the president’s office were not returned. Westminster police and the private investigator are continuing their investigation of the newspaper office incident. So far, no sources, including the police, have been able to determine whether a crime was actually committed.