Vandalism, robbery at Social Services

State office was closed yesterday after incident

No motive or suspect, police say

Columbia

July 26, 2002|By Jason Song and Larry Carson | Jason Song and Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The state Department of Social Services office in Howard County was closed yesterday after it was vandalized and robbed overnight, authorities said.

A security guard noticed a broken window at the facility, in the 7100 block of Columbia Gateway Drive, about 7 a.m. yesterday and notified authorities, according to Howard County police.

When they arrived, police discovered that someone had entered the building and "pretty much trashed the place," said Cpl. Lisa Myers, a department spokeswoman.

The intruders overturned furniture, broke equipment and stole several computers. It did not appear that they had targeted specific offices or areas of the building, and police did not know of a motive or have any suspects, Myers said.

The building has an alarm system, but it was not set off, police officials said.

Because of the mess, police and social services workers were not sure yesterday how many computers had been stolen.

Although the 140 workers at the office handle sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers, it was highly unlikely that anyone could gain access to such information because it would be necessary to know several passwords to breach the state's computer system, state officials said.

Social services employees were able to call many of their clients who had appointments yesterday and tell them the offices were closed. Employees also hung a sign at the front entrance, notifying visitors of the closing.

The office was expected to reopen today, according to Elyn Garrett-Jones, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees the Department of Social Services.

State officials were unsure how many people were forced to reschedule appointments.

Most employees were sent home for the day, but several managers stayed at the offices and waited for police to finish their investigation.

"Why would someone want to rob a [Department of Social Services] building?" asked Linda Zumbrun, an assistant director of the facility who was sitting at a picnic bench outside an employee entrance where police officers shuttled in and out.

Zumbrun said no threats had been made against state employees.

State workers in the office conduct counseling and referral services and do not keep large amounts of cash on hand, they said.

Clients who stopped by the building yesterday were similarly confused.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Schywanda Lewis, 27, of Columbia, who stopped to drop off information for her children's school voucher program.

While Lewis was slightly worried that someone could gain access to her personal information, she was more concerned that the comfortable atmosphere at the offices had been destroyed.

"Now I'll be a little scared to come back," she said.

Social service workers were allowed back into the building late yesterday afternoon to clean up.

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