Vol. 17, No. 16 May 3, 2001 Issue

Lost items are found money for scholarships

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Crime prevention officer Valerie Pittier holds some of the items turned into WSU’s lost and found section in the Police Department. Unclaimed items are eventually sold, with the revenue going toward a scholarship fund for criminal justice students.

A dozen or so sunglasses and prescription glasses hang on a pegboard covering one wall in Valerie Pittier’s office in WSU’s police station. Below the rows of glasses are several sets of keys.

She pulls out a desk drawer filled with ziplocked plastic bags, each filled with a piece of jewelry or hair accessory. One bag contains a talking Tweetie Bird watch. Another drawer holds a Sony microcassette recorder, a 35 mm zoom Yashica camera, two graphing calculators and a couple of cell phones.

These are but a few items Pittier is harboring in the corner of her office, which has become a holding area for the various items students, visitors and staff leave behind on the WSU campus.

A half-dozen umbrellas poke out of a crock. Various articles of clothes are hung up on a rod while others are organized into plastic carts with see-through drawers and labels indicating the contents.

While the owners of those items may be losing out on some personal treasures, many of the unclaimed items will eventually benefit some WSU students.

For nearly three decades, WSU Police has been turning unclaimed items into a source of revenue for a scholarship fund for criminal justice students. William Long, a police officer at the time, had the idea to create the scholarship fund in 1973 with the profits from selling unclaimed items. The fund, named for Long, was endowed in 1988, meaning it reached the $10,000 level. Three scholarships are awarded each semester from the fund’s earnings.

By law, the WSU Police are required to keep items turned in to the lost and found for 90 days, explains Pittier, a crime prevention officer who’s been in charge of the lost and found operation for the past five years.

"We’ll look through things and try to find a name or trace the item. If we find a name, we’ll give the person a call, or we send a postcard to say we’ve got their stuff and to come claim it."

What to do

If you find an item on campus, crime prevention office Valerie Pittier suggests the best thing to do is turn in the item to the Police Department directly. The department is staffed 24 hours.

If you’ve lost an item, call Pittier at 978-5529 to see if it’s been found. Be prepared to give a detailed description of the item. For instance, if you’ve lost a pair of glasses, describe the frames and color. If the item hasn’t shown up, Pittier will take your name and contact information in case it does.

As she explains the procedure, a call comes in. Someone has lost a pair of green Oakleys, an expensive brand of sunglasses. "Give me your name and I’ll let you know if they come in," she tells the caller. She warns the caller, like she does anyone looking for a lost item, that the item may not be turned in. She records the caller’s name, contact information and the lost item, in case the sunglasses show up.

Some items, like unclaimed credit cards or checkbooks, are destroyed after the 90-day period. Other items end up stored in the corner of Pittier’s office and then eventually in a basement room.

The Police Department acquires found items in a variety of ways. Generally once a week or so, someone is dispatched to various offices on campus that are designated areas for collecting lost items, such as the dean’s office in Clinton, Lindquist and Ahlberg halls, Ablah Library’s circulation desk or the mathematics department in Jabara Hall. The Heskett Center turns in items nightly, after the fitness center’s lockers are checked at the end of the day. People also turn in items directly to the department, which is staffed 24 hours.

"We had a violin show up one time that someone had left in a parking lot," Pittier says, recalling one of the more unique items that has been turned in. When the owner was located through sheet music bearing a name inside the case, the police were told the violin was worth $25,000.

About every two years the Police Department organizes a garage sale to sell unclaimed items. Each sale brings in about $400-500, Pittier estimates. She’s planning to have a sale next summer. Items that don’t sell eventually end up with nonprofit organizations such as the Children’s Home or the Salvation Army.

Abandoned bikes are usually sold every year because of limited storage space. Money from unclaimed wallets is also deposited into the scholarship fund.

The fund will soon get another deposit, when Pittier sells unclaimed textbooks — among them an Associated Press Stylebook and "The Principles of Anesthesiology" — to the University Bookstore at the end of the semester.

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Inside WSU is published by the Office of University Communications for Wichita State University faculty, staff and friends on biweekly Thursdays during the fall and spring semesters. Items to be considered for publication should be sent to campus box 62 or Amy.Geiszler-Jones@wichita.edu 10 days before publication.

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