Lost and Found Efforts Highlight Public Safety’s Vincentian Mission

Public Safety sign outside building
March 30, 2020

It is widely known and appreciated that the Department of Public Safety at St. John’s University strives 24/7 to ensure the security of the entire University community.

What is lesser known is that same level of dedication is duplicated by the Public Safety Command Center on the Queens, NY, campus in its role as the central repository for hundreds of lost items that are retrieved yearly throughout the nearly 102-acre campus.

“Last year alone, more than 1,000 pieces of lost property made their way to us,” said Quality Assurance Investigator Steven Hasman, who along with his counterpart, Gregory A. Danca, and Blayne Saunders, Associate Director of Compliance, oversees the Lost and Found division.

An expensive gold locket. A wallet containing 23 $100 bills. Eyewear from drug store readers to pricey prescription lenses. A jumble of clothing, books, and numerous cell phones, laptops, and digital tablets. Ear buds. Backpacks. This is just a sampling of the kinds of objects that are deposited in a corner reserved for the Lost and Found section of the Command Center.

A large, clear, plastic bag filled with jackets, sweatpants, and shirts sits on the floor of the Command Center. Behind it stands a cabinet with drawers containing plastic and cardboard bins, and manila envelopes where numerous items are neatly organized and labeled.

“You name it, we probably have found it somewhere on this campus,” said John A. Breheny, Director of Public Safety. “It runs the gamut.”

Once the items—which are often retrieved by Public Safety officers on their daily rounds, as well as by students, faculty, administrators, and staff—are dropped off at the Command Center, Mr. Hasman and his team launch the meticulous process of attempting to reunite the property with the owners.

“We make every effort to conduct an investigation to identify the owner of the property and return it, if it is at all possible,” said Mr. Breheny.

“We could just throw everything in the garbage; that is the easy thing to do,” said Mr. Hasman. “But it is not the right thing to do—not if we can help other people.”

The Lost and Found team maintains a “property log” that lists information such as item description, when and where it was found, and the name of the person who found the item. If the owner can be identified easily through a name or address that is marked on or somehow contained within the object, Public Safety immediately contacts the person with the good news that their property has been located. They will also mail owners their item.

Unclaimed property is held in the Lost and Found division for 30 days, while Mr. Hasman and his team employ some good old-fashioned detective work to locate the owners. Sometimes, the University’s camera surveillance system helps.

“We have had instances where someone came to us to hand over cash they found in the lobby of one of the residence halls,” said Mr. Hasman. “We will go back to the cameras and see, for example, if there is footage of money falling out of someone’s pocket at that location or if it records a person as they unwittingly drop money on the floor.”

After 30 days, the team disposes of unclaimed property; the way it is disposed of depends on the actual object.

“If it is a debit or credit card and the owner has not claimed it at the end of the 30 days, it is shredded,” Mr. Hasman said. “But we hold onto it for 30 days because someone might come in and say, ‘Hey, did you find my card?’ That happens many times.”

Many other unclaimed articles that are new or in good condition are donated by Public Safety to various nonprofit organizations.

Public Safety regularly deposits unclaimed clothing in the Goodwill bin that is set up near St. Albert Hall. Mr. Hasman mails the eyeglasses to a nonprofit in Ontario, CA, that sends them to an impoverished municipality in Nigeria. And since November of 2016, Public Safety has donated more than $4,000 in unclaimed cash to either St. John’s Bread & Life or the University’s Catholic Scholars Program.

The Lost and Found team also takes on managing possessions students do not want to take with them when they leave campus at the end of an academic year. Near the conclusion of the spring semester, students drop off their unwanted items—including televisions, new shoes, microwaves, and designer clothing—inside a temporary tent Public Safety sets up in front of Montgoris Hall.

Public Safety then donates the unwanted property to the St. John’s student chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society that, in turn, passes the items along to the charities and nonprofit foundations with which they are associated.

“Just like the rest of the St. John’s community, Public Safety is proud to uphold our Vincentian mission of helping those in need,” said Mr. Saunders. “It is refreshing to know so much good comes from these efforts.”