NBC12 investigation reveals Henrico school laptops missing

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – Dozens of taxpayer-funded laptop computers have gone missing in Henrico County, but there's a reason district leaders aren't getting nervous.

They are state of the art computers, with the price tag to prove it. Henrico County Public School laptops -- taken home by every middle and high school student -- cost $1,059 apiece.

In January, an NBC12 request under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act revealed 81 of them have gone missing or been stolen this school year; a potential loss of approximately $85,779 in taxpayer money.

Lloyd Brown is director of technology, overseeing the school system's 38,000 computers.

"Throughout the school year, something's gonna happen," Brown said, adding that the laptop units are not being stolen, in bulk, out of a county facility. Instead, it's mostly students who are losing track of them.

"Sometimes, it's just, the kids misplaced them," Brown said, "Leaving them somewhere, unattended."

But school authorities say they have reason to feel confident that almost all of the computers will be tracked down by the end of the year.

Lt. Eric Owens is with Henrico Police.

"Tracking mechanisms will be initiated to locate the computer," Owens said.

When the time is right, investigators can view pictures of alleged thieves, by remotely turning on a stolen unit's web cam. It works even if the stolen computer is sold on the black market, which Owens advises against.

"Someone approaches you with that property and offers you the great deal, you probably want to shy away from  it," Owens said.

Laptops that aren't found are often covered by insurance or a student's parents. Henrico school authorities say they communicate each year with students on how to be more responsible.

"I'm not seeing a concern that would red flag us to really say, 'Hey we really gotta stop this program.'  Again, it's 80 units out of 30,000 plus," Brown said.

Of the 81 computers reported stolen this year, Henrico already has recovered 12.

Police say stealing a laptop is a felony, but they currently have no evidence of an organized theft ring.

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