A former Branford dining hall worker was arrested Thursday for last summer’s theft of more than $30,000 worth of students’ property from the college’s summer storage, University Police Chief James Perrotti said yesterday.

Roger Bowers, 52, of New Haven, was arrested on charges of burglary in the third degree and larceny in the first degree, Perrotti said. Bowers worked in Branford’s dining hall last year, but was not allowed to return to work once police informed University officials he was a suspect in the theft, Branford Master Steven Smith said.

“If in fact [Bowers] was the thief, I’m glad justice is being done,” Smith said.

Police allege Bowers broke into the squash courts and other areas where students stored their belongings over the summer. They allege he opened many of the boxes in storage and scattered the contents, making it more difficult for police to determine what had actually been stolen.

Police said there was no evidence of forced entry in the rooms, suggesting that whoever committed the crime had a key.

Bowers is suspected of stealing $25,000 worth of books and $8,400 worth of other property. He was arrested for two felonies and he could face prison if convicted, Perrotti said.

The arrest is the result of a long investigation by the department, which Perrotti said was delayed because the crime occurred over the summer, when students were not on campus to tell police what had been stolen.

The investigation of the theft led police to several bookstores that had purchased the stolen books. Only $5,716 worth of the property has been recovered, Perrotti said.

Bowers became a suspect early in the investigation but police did not have enough evidence to make an arrest until last week, Perrotti said.

Smith described Bowers as “very friendly.”

“Roger was a very popular and well-liked dining hall staff member.” Smith said. “I think there will be a lot of surprise in Branford.”

Branford cook Carl McElya said he was skeptical about the arrest.

“Actually, I kind of thought [the arrest] was bull,” McElya said. “He wasn’t that kind of guy.”

Branford student Sarah Weiss ’05, who lost property in the burglary, said she was saddened that the suspected thief worked in the college.

“If he is responsible, then it’s upsetting that someone who has interaction with Yale students everyday– would do that,” Weiss said. “You would hope that relationships are better than that.”

Weiss said she lost about 50 books, worth $750. None of her stolen books have been recovered, she said.

The security for the storage rooms in all the residential colleges has been reevaluated in the wake of the theft, Perrotti said. Smith said Branford is changing the locks in the storage rooms to limit access this summer, but could not guarantee valuables would be safe.

“This is not Fort Knox. People can break into things,” Smith said. “If people are deeply concerned about their possessions, take them home or put them in secure storage off campus.”

Bowers was taken into custody at noon Thursday. Perrotti said he is unsure whether Bower remains in custody or was released on bond.

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