A Burglary at Civil War Museum and Mayor/Museum Battles Rage on

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Reservoir Park / National Civil War Museum / Harvey Barrison

February 22, 2016; Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA)

As we are, NPQ readers may also be following the tense situation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, between the city and the National Civil War Museum, which was burglarized February 14th after a contentious gun exhibit that had been protested earlier. On Friday, the city delivered a letter to the museum demanding that they change their security measures to secure other artifacts, including some owned by the city.

Last week, a yet-unidentified male suspect broke into the museum early Sunday morning and stole three guns, including two revolvers owned by the city. The city bought the revolvers back in 1996 for $250,000. A letter penned by the city’s solicitor, Neil Grover, alleges the museum lacks some basic security features like indoor cameras or recording devices, some system that connects law enforcement or a security firm, or onsite security personnel after hours.

“Those deficiencies had to be known to the NCWM and for whatever reason, allowed to continue,” wrote Grover. “The real and personal property of the city thus became and remains easy prey for any would-be thief.”

According to PennLive, the thief broke into the museum through a ground floor window and was inside the museum for about 60 seconds while he broke the glass display case and left with the guns. The break-in did not trigger any alarms. Museum employees only became aware of the break-in when they arrived at work that Sunday, at around 12:30 p.m.

In response to the letter, chief executive officer of the museum Wayne Motts would not comment on whether security measures have been altered following the break-in. He would only direct PennLive to the statements made last week by the police when it first discussed the burglary. At the time, Police Captain Gabriel Olivera said the security system at the museum was “currently functional.”

“At this point in time, we’re going to be reviewing security measures with them to see if there is anything that needs to be changed and if it could be changed,” said Olivera at the press conference last Wednesday.

As indicated by the letter, the city expresses a concern for “further economic harm to the city.” With a nonprofit board, the museum is situated in a city-owned building and pays $1 annually in rent to the city. According to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, the lack of an adequate security system may impact the museum’s lease with the city. Without mentioning a security system, the lease does mandate that the museum keep the building and material contained in the building safe.

“Please be advised that should the NCWM fail to undertake immediate corrective action, the city will be required to act to protect its interests,” wrote Grover.

As noted by PennLive, as well as some of our readers when we first published this story, this most recent dispute with the museum is part of a long effort by the city’s mayor to break the lease and close the museum. In 2014, Papenfuse asked the county commissioner to freeze hotel tax dollars, tourism revenue that goes toward the maintenance of the museum.

Papenfuse said back in 2014, “We bought [the museum and the artifacts] on credit. Then we couldn’t pay our bills. Then we said to the museum, you can have all this for zero dollars. […] It’s disappointing it ever was allowed to get to the place it is.”—Shafaq Hasan