The Washington Department of Corrections is investigating an incident in which a briefcase full of sensitive personnel records was stolen from the vehicle of a Larch Corrections Center manager early Monday morning.
Larch human resources manager Roy Murphy reportedly took the records home over last weekend to review them, then left his briefcase on the seat of his car while he worked out at the 24-Hour Fitness Center at 13019 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd. between 6 and 7:15 a.m. Monday.
While he was inside, someone smashed a window in the car. Murphy returned to find the briefcase and 43 files missing. Others had spilled out of the briefcase inside the car.
Donna Haley, human resources director for the Department of Corrections, said preliminary information indicates Murphy took the files home to conduct an annual review required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The files contained forms known as I-9s, which provide documentation that employees are legally able to work in the United States. They included driver’s license and Social Security information such as home addresses and dates of birth.
Corrections employees are outraged over the theft of their personal information, said Lisa Griffith, the wife of a Larch corrections officer. “Mr. Murphy’s negligence is inexcusable,” Griffith said in an e-mail. “Mr. Murphy has not only put Larch employees at risk for identity theft” but has also put their families’ safety in danger, she said.
“There’s always a concern when someone has access to this information and could use it for illegal means,” Haley said. “I don’t know how realistic it is to assume there was a deliberate attempt to steal the files.”
Haley said she will meet with Larch employees in person Tuesday. She said the Department of Corrections will reimburse the cost of credit reporting services for a full year for workers who are concerned that their personal information could be used inappropriately. Employees also will be given time “on the clock” to contact credit reporting agencies, she said.
That’s not good enough, said Michael Beranbaum, director of corrections and law enforcement for Teamsters Local Union No. 117, which represents Larch workers.
“We are working to get them to provide credit protection services to all the employees,” he said Thursday. “They should be providing this to everyone, and they should be paying for it up front. It was their fault. One of their management team made a bad judgment and took those documents out of the institution. I don’t understand the need for leaving such sensitive documents in an unsecured vehicle.”
Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said the location where the briefcase was stolen is in a notorious car prowl area. Health clubs in particular are popular targets for vehicle break-ins, she said, because thieves know the owners are likely to be away from their cars for 30 minutes or more.
“Fitness centers are a prime target because people leave things in their cars — computers, briefcases, purses,” Kapp said. “They put them in plain sight.”
Most often, what’s stolen are valuables like a wallet or an iPod, she said, “but they’ll take a duffel bag, a laptop, things they can pawn or sell. It’s a crime of opportunity when they see something like this.”
Thieves these days don’t usually bother with trying to unlock a vehicle, Kapp said. Instead, they smash and grab, which leaves police little to work with in trying to find the perpetrator.
In Monday’s incident, “if they literally smashed the window with a hammer, there would be very little physical evidence,” she said.
Kapp had this admonishment for motorists: “A car is not ever a safe place to store valuables. The biggest risk to people is not losing their GPS unit but their credit card numbers, their Social Security numbers. Identity thieves are very creative in how they manipulate information. We have to protect our own property and the police cannot be everywhere at once.”
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.