Columbia Plaza burglary worries students

Students who live in the Columbia Plaza apartment complex said they are concerned about security after a student’s apartment in the five-building complex was burglarized Sept. 5.

Junior Julie Wenger said she locked the door but did not lock the deadbolt to her apartment in the “A” building of the complex on 23rd and E streets when she left at 2:15 p.m.

She returned to her apartment at 3:45 p.m. to find the door to her apartment open and about $2,500 worth of valuables stolen. Her two female roommates were out of town when the incident occurred.

“I didn’t deadbolt my door because it was, `Oh, I’m only going to be gone for an hour,’ ” Wenger said. “Well, I learned my lesson.”

Other students said they are learning from Wenger’s lesson as well.

“We’re a little on the paranoid side, we feel a little unsafe,” said Shara Rabinovitch, a junior who lives across the hall from Wenger. “Since I found out that they were broken into, I’ve been a lot more aware about how easy it is to get into the building without a card.”

Residents of Columbia Plaza have a magnetic card that permits access into the building. A separate key unlocks each apartment’s door. The entrance to each of the five buildings is equipped with a surveillance camera, and a security guard sits at a desk in the lobby of the “C” building, monitoring the videotapes.

But students said it is easy to enter the buildings without an access card.

Michael Plostock, a sophomore and an “A” building resident since March, said he entered the building before he moved in by calling the security desk from the call box and saying he forgot his access card. The security guard buzzed him in without asking any questions.

Students said they would feel safer if the security guards required residents to recite their Social Security numbers if they forget their access cards, similar to the procedure Community Service Aides follow when on-campus residents forget their GWorld IDs.

But Plostock concedes that residents are partly responsible for the lack of security in the buildings.

“I mean, you hold the door open for somebody and you don’t see if they take their key out or not, so you don’t know who you’re letting in the building,” he said. “I do it all the time, but at the same time, that is compromising the security.”

Dolores Stafford, director of the University Police Department, said it is important for students who live off campus to make sure the locks on the doors and windows of their apartments are secure.

“There’s some basic things that students can check to make sure they’re looking out for security,” she said. “We can’t respond (to Columbia Plaza) because we don’t have jurisdiction there.”

Students also said they would feel safer in Columbia Plaza if GW placed an emergency call box near the apartment complex. But Stafford said a UPD call box in the complex would not be useful because UPD cannot respond to incidents that occur off campus.

Wenger said Metropolitan Police Department officers took fingerprints at the scene but were unable to determine if the suspect forced his or her way into the apartment or if the suspect had a key to the apartment. Wenger, her two roommates and the Columbia Plaza management are the only key holders, Wenger said.

Wenger said a watch, a bracelet, earrings and a ring were taken from the top of her dresser. A necklace was thrown on the floor. A portable CD player and a portable tape player also were stolen from the apartment, although a laptop computer was not taken.

Wenger said she is unhappy about the way the building’s management handled the incident. She wrote a letter to the property director, Vincent Copeman, with details of the incident and has not received a response. She said she and her roommates have called the management because they want to review the surveillance videotapes, but the management has not returned their calls.

Wenger said she expects better treatment from the management because she and her roommates pay more than $1,600 a month for their 2-bedroom apartment.

“They kind of just shrugged this off and tried to keep it low and secret,” she said. “They’re my management. They should care. They should care about the security in their building because people are going to start moving out.”

Copeman said he received Wenger’s letter and is trying to get more information about the incident from the officer on duty. He said Columbia Plaza paid to have two of the three locks changed on Wenger’s apartment.

“I wouldn’t say it’s procedure (to change the locks),” Copeman said. “Normally it’s requested, and we do so. It’s at our expense, as kind of a favor, if you will.”

Copeman refused to comment further on Columbia Plaza security.

Wenger said the management should post fliers in the hallways and elevators to alert other residents about the recent burglary. She said a town hall meeting was held at Columbia Plaza after a burglary in the spring. Plostock and his roommate David Metnick moved into Columbia Plaza after being placed on the waiting list for campus housing.

“The whole thing is that Columbia Plaza is supposed to be this prominent place to live,” Metnick said. “Actually people said it was really safe. (We heard) from word of mouth that Columbia Plaza was one of the nicest places to live off campus.”

But the recent incident has students in Columbia Plaza wondering whether they made the right decision.

“Students that I talk to now tell me that they don’t feel safe at all,” Wenger said. “When the investigator was coming up to do fingerprinting and investigating, the officer said, `This place used to be safe. I don’t know what happened to it.’ “

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