Two Commerce police officers who found the gates of the city utilities complex on Cedar Drive open early Saturday morning expressed dismay at finding unlocked vehicles parked with keys in the ignition and buildings housing tools, equipment and electronics unlocked.
When they reported their findings to the on-call employee, the officer writing the official report noted that the employee seemed “somewhat confused and a little defensive,” but reported that leaving buildings and vehicles unlocked was standard operating procedure.
The first officer arrived at the site at 1 a.m. on Saturday to find the gates to the complex wide open, a sewerage department vehicle parked nearby, its driver-side door open, and standing water inside the vehicle from the night’s rain.
Two officers decided to check the other city vehicles housed at the site and were stunned to find each unlocked with the keys in the ignition and two-way radios and other “miscellaneous items of value” inside.
The report said the officers discussed how they were “baffled as to how a city facility could (be left empty) for the weekend on a Friday afternoon and so much of the city’s property exposed for the taking.”
The report observed that the Utilities Department is located in a “high crime” area.
The keys in the first truck included a key that fit the door of the first building — which police found unlocked. Likewise, the warehouse holding copper parts, power tools and other items of potential value was open, as was another building holding a quantity of the same items.
When the on-call employee arrived, he told the officer, “It’s always been like this, and it’s just the culture of those that work here,” the report said.
The following day, the same officer did a follow-up inspection and found the facility still unsecured, the front gate unlocked. He called supervisor Sammy Ingram to report his finding, but then checked back four more times at intervals during the day to find nothing changed.
That led him to remove all portable radios, keys and cell phones from the unlocked trucks and from the buildings, which were still not locked. The officer reported securing the front gate with a gun lock and cable and taking all of the items he’d removed back to the police station for safekeeping.
City manager Pete Pyrzenski was not amused.
According to Pryzenski, he’d asked the police to inspect city facilities for security and has called a “complete” Utilities Department and Public Works Department” meeting to have a discussion about the issue.
“We have some behavioral and cultural issues that we need to change,” he said.
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