State Building in Chicago Missing Guards in Security 'Hiccup'

CHICAGO (AP) -- A planned changeover in security providers for the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago caused confusion for state employees, who were uneasy when they discovered the new scheme did not include security guards on most floors.

Employees arrived for work at the 16-floor state office building Monday and found no one manning several security posts for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"At a time when most government buildings are evaluating their security and becoming more secure, it concerns us that a level of security in the Thompson Center has been removed,'' said Melissa Merz, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan. ``It is critical that the public be able to access our offices, but it is also critical that the state employees who work here feel secure.''

The murder of an unarmed security guard at the Capitol on Sept. 20 prompted calls for heightened security in that building. Metal detectors were installed last week and armed guards have been stationed at entrances.

But Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration announced last month that the state could save $550,000 a year by turning security at the Thompson Center and Chicago's Bilandic Building over to the Illinois State Police from a private security firm.

Police Lt. Peter J. Negro sent an e-mail Friday to state agencies, announcing ``screeners will no longer be assigned to floors 3 through 15.''

But by mid-afternoon Monday, uniformed state police were stationed on all floors. Guards will remain on all floors indefinitely, officials said.

"When it was brought to our attention that this had surprised everybody ... that's when we decided to have screeners in place,'' said Master Sgt. Rick Hector, a state police spokesman.

Blagojevich's office had a metal detector and guard throughout the day, officials said.