Report cites deficiencies at LIRR Lost and Found Office

A new report has found that staff at LIRR's Lost and Found Office (LFO) couldn't locate eight of 20 items in its database late last year.

The MTA Inspector General's report cited the office for lax security, poor organization and inadequate record-keeping.

It blames many of the deficiencies on the office's practice of keeping items longer than required by law - from three months to three years.

The report cited the following areas in need of improvement:

--Although the door to the LFO storage space is locked, access is not monitored by cameras, an electronic keycard system, or a formal sign-in process to document arrivals and departures.

--The inside of the storage area is not monitored by a video surveillance system or otherwise secured. Many high-value items, including jewelry, and high-risk identity documents, including driver licenses and passports, are stored in unlocked bins.

--Property in the LFO is at risk of avoidable misplacement or theft. We selected a sample of 20 items that should have been on the premises, according to the LFO database, but staff was unable to locate eight of them (40 percent).

--Many inexpensive items are retained for much longer than required by law before their eventual disposition, thereby increasing overcrowding and the risk of misplacement or loss of more recently-recovered property. Indeed, we found that of the auctioned or discarded items valued at less than $100-the category for 87 percent of all items received by the LFO- the average retention for items in this group was 254 days, nearly triple the required 90-day period.

--Information maintained in the LFO database is frequently inaccurate, outdated, and/or incomplete. Therefore, staff cannot readily track the location of property or the length of its retention.

--When one of the LFO's three permanent, full-time staff members is absent, problems with data-entry and property storage are exacerbated by the inexperience of their temporary replacements.

The Lost and Found received more than 15,500 items in 2013. Unclaimed items are generally auctioned.

The LIRR says it is taking steps to improve the operation. It says about 60 percent of the items were returned to claimants.

Here is the report's summary of recommendations:

For the LFO to safeguard and facilitate the return of property to its rightful owner, it must better:
--Document the entry of individuals into the LFO's non-public outer storage area
--Control access to the interior of the storage room
--Secure property particularly at risk of theft, including jewelry, computer tablets, smart phones, and identity documents.

To ensure the timely and appropriate disposition of property, reduce clutter, and better comply with law, management must:
--Bring the LFO into compliance with the legally-mandated retention periods
--Make the data retrieval system more accurate, up-to-date, and complete

Management must also ensure that unclaimed property is disposed of in accordance with law. Finally, management should evaluate options for stabilizing the staff coverage of the Lost and Found Office.
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