Solving the Campus Security Challenge

By Dennis Pierce

Community colleges present unique challenges to security officials. To guard against a tragedy like the one in Roseburg, Oregon, campus leaders should focus on three areas in particular.

Campus security is in the national spotlight again, following the Oct. 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, in Oregon. And while there is no “one size fits all” solution to keeping community colleges safe, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) has issued some advice that can help.

Community colleges should have an up-to-date emergency operations plan that focuses on both prevention and response, IACLEA says.

But should colleges have armed police forces? Some people believe that if the public safety officers at Umpqua Community College had been armed, the shooter would have been stopped more quickly.

Question of security

There has been a long-standing discussion on college campuses about armed police officers versus unarmed campus safety officers — but there is no single correct answer, and every institution must decide for itself, says IACLEA President Bill Taylor.

The trend toward armed police forces on campus is on the rise at four-year colleges and universities, Justice Department data show. About 75 percent of four-year institutions enrolling 2,500 students or more used armed officers during the 2011–12 school year, up from 68 percent in 2004–05. (Figures for armed police forces at community colleges were not available.)

In deciding how to approach campus policing, community college officials should consider the level of protection they think they will need, the types of incidents that are most common on their campuses, the resources they have to spend on security, and the values of the community in which they reside, Taylor says. IACLEA has issued a white paper to help its member institutions with these decisions.

“A full police force might not be required in every case — and it’s expensive,” he notes.

Regardless of what campus leaders decide on this issue, they should provide regular emergency response training to their public safety department and all campus stakeholders, IACLEA says, including offering “Run, Hide, Fight” training for faculty, staff and students. Campus safety departments also should prepare for a variety of scenarios within their active shooter training, and they should establish partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to train for and respond to campus emergencies.

Prevention, visibility and accessibility

One program that trains for situations involving an active shooter is catching on nationwide: Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) was developed at Texas State University after the 1998 Columbine High School shooting.

“After Columbine, law enforcement officials realized the tactics had to change,” Taylor says. “We now go into facilities instead of setting up a perimeter around them. The goal has become to take out the subject.”

The Justice Department has invested millions of dollars to bring ALERRT training to cities and campuses nationwide.

Community colleges present unique security challenges because of their nature as an open hub for the community, says Taylor, who is also the chief of police at San Jacinto College, in Pasadena, Texas.

Community colleges are harder to lock down, Taylor says — and in the event of an emergency, it’s harder to notify students who are constantly coming and going and don’t live on campus. This is why it’s critical for community colleges to use a mass notification system and to be vigilant in keeping databases up to date with the latest mobile contact information for students.

When it comes to prevention, community colleges should have behavioral threat assessment teams and early warning systems in place to identify students or staff who might pose threats. Another higher-education trend on the rise, Taylor says, is the use of data mining companies that can monitor social media chatter to watch for potential dangers.

Visibility and accessibility are important as well, Taylor says. At San Jacinto College, campus safety officials give presentations for students during mandatory orientation sessions, and they offer a variety of self-defense classes.

“Be inside the buildings and move around campus as much as possible,” he advises. “Talk with students and get to know them in a general sense. Campus safety personnel should be as accessible and interactive as possible.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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