SEATTLE - The Seattle Fire Department said Wednesday it will not warn any apartment buildings, condo buildings or businesses unless police confirm two break-ins were indeed because of compromised Knox boxes.
The fire department is supposed to be the only one that can access the emergency lock boxes, which contain codes, fobs or keys specifically assigned to Seattle fire. They can also contain things like keys to a building’s office.
The fire department estimates there are about 4,000 Knox boxes at buildings across the city.
Surveillance video from a Seattle apartment building on March 30 and a Seattle condo building on June 3 show a man and woman moving around, stealing packages and other items.
Employees at both say the thieves used fobs or codes specifically assigned to the Seattle Fire Department, stored inside each building’s Knox box. They said they checked the electronic logs for the building and matched up the use of the codes to the thieves’ appearance on camera.
One video, from the June 3rd incident, shows the man fiddling with the Knox box, with his back to the surveillance camera.
“Why not warn some of these building owners? Because these Knox boxes might give these thieves a lot of access,” KIRO 7 asked Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.
“Well, if we find that to be the case and that's actually a fact by way of the Seattle Police Department, then we'll probably -- we'll do that,” he said.
Scoggins said after the first break-in in March, the fire marshal started looking into the case. The fire chief said he was notified around late May. The second break-in occurred June 3.
That break-in is what spurred an employee to come forward, asking KIRO 7 not to use his name of the condo’s. He wanted to know why he never got a heads-up that there was even a potential security breach.
“Had we been aware, we would have made the measures that we took after being robbed -- before being robbed,” he said. “We could have better protected our residents, better protected their property.”
He said he is concerned the thieves might strike again and possibly hurt residents if they surprise them in the act.
KIRO 7 asked Scoggins if he was putting buildings at risk by not putting out a warning that the Knox boxes may have been compromised.
“I’m not sure about that, if we are,” he said. “I mean, people access buildings all day long. There are many buildings that do not have Knox boxes on them that people access all day long.”
For the owner of one of the buildings hit, that is not enough.
He told KIRO 7 by email that he was "very displeased with their sluggish response so far and thinks building owners maybe need to threaten legal action if the SFD and SPD are not more forthcoming and proactive."
The Seattle police Major Crimes Task Force took over the case on Tuesday.
The Seattle Fire Department said all of its master keys are accounted for and it has high security for the keys.
The department also said after a previous set of Knox box break-ins in 2013, the Knox Corp. developed “a completely different key and core system” that is supposed to be “impossible to reverse engineer” and the fire department installed new cores in all Knox boxes.
When building owners buy a new Knox box, they install only the outside box, and the department receives the core and installs it later.
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