218 S. Wabash Building burglarized on national holiday

By Samuel Charles

A security guard stationed at the Campus Security Command Center neglected to dispatch a security patrol car or inform the Chicago Police Department for more than 40 minutes while the seventh floor of the 218 S. Wabash Ave. Building was being burglarized on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 17.

The seventh floor is home to Columbia’s Community Media Workshop. This is the second time the building has been burglarized in the last calendar year.

With the building closed due to the holiday, no college employees could access the building. However, because of a broken door lock, four individuals were able to enter the building at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Once inside, they pilfered more than $5,000 worth of technological equipment, including several Apple computers, according to Thom Clark, president of the Community Media Workshop. The offenders fled by the time police arrived and were not apprehended.

“It was a messy invasion,” Clark said. “They had 40 unfettered minutes to waltz through the floor.”

Martha Meegan, director of Campus Safety and Security, and Robert Koverman, vice president of Campus Safety and Security, were forthcoming and transparent about the incident, Clark said.

According to Clark, “human error” is to blame for the burglary’s success.

The security cameras and alarm system reported the intruders to the Campus Security Command Center, but neither the campus security patrol nor the CPD were alerted for 40 minutes after the break-in.

“After the fact, I don’t have any problem with the way [the Campus Security Command Center] has responded,” Clark said. “They made it pretty clear there was human failure and the security company the college contracts with understands that too and is taking responsibility for it.”

Immediately after the burglary occurred, a security guard didn’t send out a Campus Safety Alert to all faculty, staff and students. Instead, an e-mail alert was sent to those who work in the building.

Under the provisions of the Jeanne Clery Act, an institution may refrain from publicly disclosing information if an ongoing investigation could be jeopardized.

The incident was recorded in the daily incident log, which is also stipulated by the act.

“The people [in the 218 S. Wabash Ave. Building] were alerted,” Meegan said. “We have no evidence [the offenders] were moving further south, that’s why our communication was strictly to them.”

But the staff on the seventh floor felt personally violated after seeing the condition of the office after the suspects left, Clark said.

“It’s a bad taste left in your mouth, [but] it was hard to direct any of that anger at [Koverman] or [Meegan],” Clark said.

Last September, Bernadette McMahon, associate vice president and chief information officer, was the victim of an attempted mugging in the building’s lobby.

At the time, there was no guard stationed at the building. Columbia can’t assume responsibility for the entire building because the college rents the seventh, eighth and ninth floors.

Since the Jan. 17 incident, a security guard has stood in the building’s lobby at the request of employees on the seventh floor, according to Clark.

“We have since had a guard stationed on the first floor,” he said. “That was more of a sporadic thing before, and I don’t know how long it will last.”

Following the incident, on Jan. 18, what was believed to be the same group of suspects returned to the building. At the time, a meeting to address the previous day’s burglary was taking place.

However, the group only stayed for a few minutes because they were recognized by two college employees in the lobby, according to Koverman.

“Because we circulated [their] photos, these guys only spent four minutes in the building,” he said.

Clark said he’s learned thieves tend to be reclusive and avoid confrontation.

“This is a nasty business, [full of] chicken-hearted folks who don’t want to encounter other human beings,” he said. “They know when we’re not here.”