Incident at rental space raises safety concerns

By CiaraShook

An attempted robbery in the 218 S. Wabash Ave. Building, where Columbia rents three floors, has prompted a review of the building security measures.

A Columbia employee identified as Bernadette McMahon, associate vice president and chief information officer of Information Technology, was approached in the building’s lobby on Sept. 2 by two men who pawed through her belongings, according to Martha Meegan, director of Campus Safety and Security. The men did not speak to McMahon or make eye contact with her. Though the suspects fled and nothing was stolen, security in the lobby and upper floors is under study by Campus Safety and Security and the building’s property management team, Ashwood Corporation.

“These were two well-dressed men who were pushy and did not speak when they came through the doorway—that was a tipoff for me,” McMahon said. “The police stated the two people who attempted to pickpocket me trap [victims] in the foyers of buildings and/or by the elevators by faking that they have gotten their fingers caught in the door while the other person goes through your bags.”

According to a report filed with the Chicago Police Department, the offenders were identified as males, both wearing dark clothing.

McMahon said police, campus security and the building’s landlord responded quickly.

Though Campus Safety and Security reports nothing stolen, Columbia is in talks with Bruce Lord, owner of the building and president of Ashwood Corporation, to discuss the security measures in the building.

“We’re as concerned, as property managers, about the safety and comfort of tenants in the building,” Lord said. “All is under review to see what we can do.”

Lord said no other incidents have occurred in the lobby of 218 S. Wabash Ave. in the time he has managed the property.

Columbia has occupied the building for approximately three years, and nothing of this nature has occurred before, Lord said.

“I believe this is just the sign of the times,” McMahon said.

The building is not owned by Columbia, but three floors are leased to house departments including Payroll, Information Technology and Human Resources, among

others. Because non-Columbia offices also operate in the building, the college cannot station a security guard in the lobby, otherwise Columbia would assume liability for all who

come and go in the building.

All doors of Columbia’s three floors are secured, including stairwell doors and lobby doors leading to Columbia spaces, and the floors are covered by surveillance cameras, Koverman said.

Columbia had previously stationed a security officer on the eighth floor, but not the seventh or ninth floor. The security guard was removed Aug. 31, two days before the attempted robbery took place.

“We thought we could enhance the security of these floors,” said Koverman. “We added state-of-the-art video cameras and alarms tied into those cameras, and door contacts to identify when doors are being opened or closed. The occupants have direct communication through the alarms and the video cameras with our 24/7 [Campus Security] Command Center.”

McMahon said the new system will be effective and the Command Center is working well, but urges all to be alert. She advises students not to let strangers stand too close, if possible.

“If you think someone does not belong in your building or they are getting too physically close to you, don’t be afraid to yell at them and tell the security guard on duty,” she said.