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Vol.25, No. 18 Mar. 31, 2000

Above and Beyond: Facilities Honors Its Stars at Employee Ceremony

By Lauren Marshall

Nicely dressed, the man seemed to fit into the scene of SIPA's busy halls, but something about him made Carlos Polanco take a second look. Three days earlier, staff in the Facilities Management Department had received an e-mail from Ricky Morales, head of crime prevention for University Security. Someone was breaking into student lockers in SIPA and the Law School and stealing personal property. In the memo, Morales notified staff of the larceny trend and advised them to be on alert. If they saw a suspicious-looking person on campus, Morales advised them to politely inquire as to their business on campus and alert Security if necessary.

Tipped off by a large duffel bag the man was carrying, Polanco stopped him and asked what he was doing at Columbia. In response, the man ran, and Polanco followed in an effort to keep him in sight.

Seeing his colleague in hot pursuit, Steve Jones, a custodian in SIPA, called Security and followed Polanco and the alleged thief into the Law building. At this time, University Security officers took over the chase that lasted through four campus buildings and ended when the suspect jumped from the East Campus bridge into an open window of Philosophy Hall.

Security swarmed the building in search of the missing man. Juan Almonte, a Philosophy Hall custodian joined in the search and, on a whim, opened a custodial closet and peered in. There at the top of the vaulted closet ceiling, clinging to the four corners of the wall like Spiderman, was the suspect, too busy keeping himself perched to notice that the custodian had come and gone. Almonte notified Security. The suspect, still clinging to a bag with locker cutters, stolen property and credit cards, was detained by Security until the New York City Police Department took over the case.

During the subsequent investigation, NYPD detectives ascertained that the thief, who was currently on probation for other crimes, had been responsible for the theft of over 15 laptop computers on campus. Since the time of his arrest, larcenies at Columbia have decreased 70 percent.

"We send information to any area where trends are identified and put out alerts to faculty, staff and students all the time," said John Morolo, assistant director for Security Operations, who noted that an informed public is a safer one. "What is gratifying from our end is that Ricky's efforts paid off and a collaboration between Security and Facilities Management staff resulted in a beautiful flow of events."

In addition to receiving Commendation Awards from the NYPD, Juan Almonte, Carlos Polanco and Steven Jones were recognized at a recent breakfast hosted by the Facilities Management's Awards and Recognitions Program. Amid their peers, these three facilities staff members were noted for their courage and commitment on the job along with colleague Freddie Estrella, employee of the month, who as truck driver B is responsible for the department's snow removal operation and participates in waste and recycling removal on campus. In addition, Juan Almonte and Armando Borja received honorable mentions.

The Facilities Management Department's Employee Awards program, in effect for over two years, gives Facilities Management employees and managers the opportunity to nominate exceptional peers for monthly and yearly recognition.

The 1999 Employee of the Year, Ron Brown, a mechanic, said, "My co-workers are good friends, we are like a family and this relationship helps us in our jobs. Among your friends you know that there is someone around who can give you advice or help. We are different people from different places, black, white, Hispanic, different religions, and we are a good team."