College seeks higher security profile, students want more


Lou Foglia

College seeks higher security profile, students want more

By Campus Editor

In the midst of a nationwide struggle to create effective security measures on college campuses, Columbia is working to increase campus officers’ visibility on and around college property, according to Ron Sodini, associate vice president for Campus Safety & Security.

The Office of Campus Safety & Security released the college’s 2014–2015 Annual Crime Statistics & Fire Safety Report in a Sept. 30 collegewide email, revealing that the number of reported on-campus crimes rose from 27 incidents in 2013 to 39 in 2014. 

According to Sodini, the 44 percent increase in on-campus crimes could be the result of better reporting from crime victims compared to previous years. While the total number of non-disciplinary campus crimes reached 39, Sodini added that most of the crimes reported were within single digits, reflecting a safe environment.

“Obviously, one crime is one crime too many,” he said. “We are aware of the fact that there has been a concerted effort within the college and outside of the college to encourage more reporting of certain crimes.”

According to the report, the college records statistics for crimes that occurred on both campus property and public property, including any sidewalks or streets that students frequent between Columbia buildings. The crime statistics cover a range of incidents from sex offenses to robbery and assault.

As on-campus crimes reported saw an increase, the number of offenses reported on public property decreased 73 percent from 93 incidents to 25. 

Sodini said the public property crime reports come directly to the college from the Chicago Police Department and include all crimes—not just those involving students. He said the decrease in such crimes can be attributed to a strong local police presence and a smaller perimeter to monitor due to Columbia no longer having a contract with the Buckingham Chicago, 59 E. Van Buren St.

“Reductions in crime in and around our neighborhood are a testimony to the hard work of the Chicago Police officers in our neighborhood who are patrolling and working very hard to keep our neighborhood safe,” he said.

Sodini said Columbia’s security officers are striving to increase their visibility, adding that officers patrol all public areas near campus property, extending from the 1600 block of South State Street to the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building as well as near properties on Michigan and Wabash avenues.

“Our patrol component is around the campus keeping our eyes and ears open for suspicious activity and incidents that might require police attention,” he said.

Though the college may be reporting on issues surrounding the campus, Jordan Smith, a senior cinema art + science major, said after calling the college’s emergency number about a public property incident near campus, he thought the Office of Campus Safety & Security was not adequately responsive.

Smith said he called security around 11:50 p.m. on Sept. 29 after an encounter with a group of men at the Polk Street entrance of the Harrison Red Line stop. Smith said the men, whom he thought looked suspicious, stood at the stop’s entrance and verbally harassed him as he walked toward it, so he called campus security to report the incident.

Smith said he felt the security officer who answered the call did not seem concerned and went “back and forth” with him, asking questions about why he was calling and whether he lives on or off campus. He added that the officer said Campus Safety & Security only deals with on-campus issues.

“It felt like I was doing the wrong thing by the way the conversation proceeded,” Smith said.

Smith said the Chicago Transit Authority stop is public property and not in the jurisdiction of the college, but he felt it was an issue the college should be aware of.

Smith said he sent an email to Campus Security Commander Christ Karedes detailing his dissatisfaction with the interaction. He said he received a call Tuesday from Campus Safety & Security asking him to describe the subjects again.

Sodini said he was not aware of Smith’s call to campus security and could not comment on the specifics of the encounter. He added the office welcomes all calls but the protocol is to direct students to notify the police if they feel they are are on what is considered public property.

“He did absolutely the right thing by notifying us,” Sodini said. “We want to know about anything that’s occurring, but it’s also true that particular location would be something that is the jurisdiction of the police. Our advice is always if you feel unsafe and you feel in any jeopardy, you can call 911 and you can call us. Call 911 because they have the primary jurisdiction, but I would never want anyone to feel that they should not call us too.”

Smith said campus security may not have been able to help him, but he said he was not directed to call the Chicago Police Department. However, he said he did notify the CTA employee at the Harrison Street Red Line entrance following the incident.

He added there was a “lack of professionalism” from the security guard who answered his call.

“It seemed like her questions were more opinionated, or there was personality behind them when it should have been more professional,” he said. “I felt very judged as I was answering these questions.”

Sodini said there are certain procedures in place in the case of a security officer mishandling a call.

“If we find that one of our officers handled a call incorrectly, we would investigate that matter and if we found that officer handled that incorrectly and not according to our protocol, we would take the appropriate disciplinary action and ensure the appropriate remedial training,” he said.

There are currently approximately 60 security officers assigned to Columbia through contractor AlliedBarton Security Services, which has supplied the college with officers since August 2009, according to Sodini. Those officers are required to complete a state-mandated course  through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. 

The college’s contract with AlliedBarton ends in August 2016, Sodini said, and continuing a contract with AlliedBarton will depend on the needs of the college.

“We are constantly evaluating and we are always looking for the best service we can get,” he said. “We’ll be continuing to evaluate that, so it could change.”

To increase the visibility of Columbia’s contracted officers, Sodini said their uniforms—which previously represented AlliedBarton—have been changed to reflect that they work for Columbia. 

“We don’t want anyone to be confused who our security officers are and where they’re patrolling,” Sodini said. “When we have a security officer on our street, we want them to be immediately recognizable.”

Sodini said he also created a student advisory committee last year, which is now also open to faculty and staff, that he meets with monthly to discuss the college’s current security operations.

Tedi Fingerman, a senior television major, said she wants to see a larger security presence on campus in addition to the officers who are stationed in the front of campus-owned buildings.

“When I walk in the door, they don’t know if I’m a crook or not,” Fingerman said. “Someone could walk in with something in their pocket and they wouldn’t know.”

Sodini said some buildings in the college, like the Media Production Center at 1600 S. State St., have already implemented limited access in certain areas by requiring student identification cards or using electronic keypads, but the college is evaluating how to better secure all buildings.

“The concept of screening people coming in and out of the building is something we are evaluating,” Sodini said. “Some of the challenges with doing that [include] some of our buildings having multiple points of access, so that poses a slight challenge. Also, the college’s prior history and culture is being an open campus in a place where people can come and go freely, but it has to be a balance between our prior culture and history and making sure the environment is safe.”