String of burglaries on campus ends in arrest

September 23, 2010 — by Mac Hyde and Synthia Ling

Disappearances of items, an elusive criminal and a high-tech police scheme—Saratoga High School, located in a sleepy suburb known for its low crime rate, hardly seems like the place for all these things to occur. But while students relaxed over summer break, police and administrators worked to track down a thief.

Thomas Igou, 48, a resident of San Jose, was apprehended during the summer for burglarizing the school, which had been experiencing thefts for more than six months, said Sheriff’s deputy Gabriel Gonzalez. In this time period, the school documented about $30,000 worth of missing items, said principal Jeff Anderson. The suspect admitted to seven burglaries and
several additional burglaries or thefts that were not reported to the
Sheriff’s Department. Igou is awaiting trial.

According to Anderson, the first instance of theft occurred during the last holiday break in December 2009, when instruments and equipment were taken from the music building. But the mysterious disappearances didn’t stop there. Valuables continued to go missing throughout second semester and the summer.

“The sound system for Color Guard, softball pitching machines, laptops and a video camera were taken,” said Anderson. “The music department was hit hard—they lost a laptop, Color Guard equipment and instruments.”

Igou is not associated with the school, and it is believed that he came across keys that said “Saratoga” on the lanyard that were lost by former music director Duane Otani, who is now the director of one of the most prestigious bands in the state at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. With these keys, the burglar could easily access school buildings, search classrooms and steal valuables.

“People are good here, but it only takes one person to find a set of keys and do some damage, as we found out this summer,” said Anderson.

According to former assistant principal Joe Bosco, the school notified the staff to lock up their belongings and to bring personal items home in an attempt to prevent further thefts.

They also notified sheriff’s deputies, who came up with a clever plan to catch the thief. A laptop had been stolen in the copy room, so the deputies put a laptop with a GPS locator installed in the back into the copy room. After some time, the suspect allegedly broke into the school Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
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ain and took the bugged laptop. He was then tracked down to his house, where he was arrested. Igou will be charged for three felony counts of second degree burglary, felony theft and felony drug possession, said Gonzalez.
“I sent a list of all the things that we know of went missing to the deputy sheriffs to see if we can regain the equipment that was taken,” said Anderson. “Or maybe [they can get] this guy to pay restitution where he would have to pay back the $30,000 of stuff that was stolen as his sentence.”

Because the school’s locks had become obsolete with the lost keys, the entire school was re-keyed during the summer, a process that cost $10,000 and caused the staff some hassle.

“They have revamped the key system in terms of who gets a key and how that’s checked out and checked in,” said Bosco. He also thinks the school’s video surveillance system can be improved to provide even better security. The staff has also been told to remove any lanyards that said “Saratoga” on them so people cannot easily associate the keys with the school.

The robberies came at a tough time for the school, with budget cuts limiting the ability to replace stolen items.

“I feel angry and disappointed because there are a lot of valuable things being taken and in these budgetary times we can’t just snap our fingers and replace a lot of this equipment,” said Anderson.

There have often been robberies of iPods, phones and other items in locker rooms, but these smaller thefts are not believed to be connected to the larger string of burglaries, according to Bosco. The school has learned a lesson to be more aware and careful.
“We have been lulled into a sense of security where people say that it ‘can’t happen here’ or ‘can’t happen in Saratoga [because] it’s a good place,’” said Anderson. “But smart villains will go to places where people are not on guard and take advantage. If we can take away a lesson it’s that we need to have our eyes open be a little more respectful of the property and not take it for granted.”
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