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The Thin Blue Line

Campus cops come under new scrutiny after the Virginia Tech shootings.
University Business, May 2007

The day following the Virginia Tech massacre, students in a Midwestern state university were taking a class taught by the university's president. Someone looked outside and saw a student walking on campus with a rifle. The president immediately deputized volunteers from the class and sent them out to warn other classrooms to go into lockdown.

As it turned out, the student was actually armed with an umbrella.

'There's an ambiance, an atmosphere, that a college wants to have. And being a lock-downed security institute is not it.' --J. Patrick Murphy, president, LPT Security Consulting

Administrators on campuses across the country are as nervous as their peers in New York and Washington, D.C., after 9/11. "Take Virginia Tech and call it the World Trade Center," says J. Patrick Murphy, president of Houston-based LPT Security Consulting. "How do you plan?"

Most U.S. college campuses hardly experience the kind of violence found in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Virginia Tech. But like Virginia Tech there are exceptions. In October 2005 a 21-year-old engineering student named Joel Henry Hinrichs III from Colorado Springs detonated a bomb near the University of Oklahoma football stadium, killing himself. The stadium happened to be packed to the gills with 84,000 fans, most of them unaware of the explosion. Despite shattering windows in a building 100 yards away, being heard by people four miles away, and having had the potential for untold casualties inside the stadium, the suicide bombing went unreported in the mainstream press.

According to one source, gate security kept Hinrichs out of the stadium because he refused to allow them to check his backpack, which was crammed with TATP (triacetone triperoxide), an explosive used in the July 2005 London bus bombings and by shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a transatlantic American Airlines flight in 2001. A school official indicated that Hinrichs had a history of "emotional difficulties."

In 1998 Knox College (Ill.) freshman Andrea Racibozynski was brutally murdered early on a Sunday morning by another freshman, Clyde Best, to whom she had just been introduced minutes before. Best attacked her with a brick in a stairwell. According to Edward J. Manzke, the lawyer representing Racibozynski's family, Knox College, with more than 1,300 students, had three security guards on duty. That was the typical number for a Saturday night, when students tend to let their hair down. (Two are usually on duty during the school week.) One guard was stationed in the computer lab, located in the same building where Racibozynski was murdered, and the other two were also in the building, checking thermometers inside food service refrigerators to make sure they were operating so the food inside wouldn't spoil.

Despite the reputation of higher institutions of learning as being open and civil, if occasionally a little rowdy, bad things happen. The U.S. Department of Education says that in 1999 more than 380,000 serious crimes were reported on or around college campuses. In our litigious society, students are filing more and more lawsuits against institutions of higher education, attributing the crime to poor security or the school's failure to follow or enforce its own rules. And courts are siding with the victims, maintaining that the institutions have a duty to protect students from foreseeable crimes.

So just who makes up that thin blue line between colleges and the bad guys--the first responders to foreseeable crimes, the campus police?

"They are the town sheriff," says Murphy. "They're a street cop." And like street cops, campus police have the power of arrest and can use deadly force if necessary. They investigate such crimes as dorm room thefts, fights, and rapes. But "they're ill-equipped to take on a major investigation. They relinquish it to local authority," Murphy says. "That's not to say they can't; they just don't have the resources."

Campus police must go through training programs at a regional police academy. At the University of Connecticut they call it POST, for Police Officer Standards and Training. According to Murphy, the typical police academy program in Texas lasts 15 weeks. States with smaller budgets may have shorter training programs. For admission to the academy a trainee usually must have completed high school, though Murphy says that major cities such as Dallas and Houston require 60 hours of college as well. Like other police departments, campus police are required to attend in-service training sessions every year. Most university police departments have some sort of internal training, such as familiarizing officers in new techniques for recognizing DUI. The force is also dedicated to that school; no city police moonlight for the campus police, and vice versa.

In addition to campus police there is also campus security, found in private colleges and universities. The security force consists of unsworn officers, also usually unarmed (unless they are part of a security company hired by the college whose guards undergo firearms training). In North Carolina, says Mike Longmire, president of Risk Management Associates, a Raleigh-based security firm, such services are regulated like police departments, meeting a certain training standard and, in the case of armed guards, completing the additional training.

"Some campuses decided to depend on the local police department to be the primary provider," Longmire says. Augustana College (Ill.) is one such school. Security supervisor Tim Swann says the college requires its guards to have an associate degree. They train in using pepper spray, first aid and CPR, and will soon begin armed shooter response training following Virginia Tech, Swann says. "That's everybody's game plan right now," he adds. In January they attended seminars on weather emergencies and terrorism threats. "One thing about the nature of this job," he says, "you can train somebody for item A and tomorrow item B pops up."

But he says most of the training is on the job: learning which key goes to which building, learning the layout of the campus, and so forth. With 2,250 students, Augustana is a pretty calm college. "We have the intoxicated student, medical emergencies, someone who told mom and dad they would call them and didn't, pretty much everything that happens on a college campus," says Swann. "There's not really violent crime, and if somebody gets intoxicated and there's a battery, that's pretty rare. The college doesn't have much tolerance for that kind of thing." Augustana has eight full-time security officers--three support staffers--basically people who go around buildings and lock them down for us," Swann says, and nine staffers who sit at the hall desks from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. controlling building access.

According to Longmire, there is also a third group: a combination of police and security forces. "A lot of private schools make that decision," he says.

Campus police officers earn a bit more than campus security staffers. In Texas, campus police earn around $17 per hour, while at Augustana College a security force staff member starts at $9.70 per hour. "I don't know if the financial aspect is the driving force there," says Longmire. "If you just want someone available to check on whether or not some buildings are locked or properly secured-an extra set of eyes and ears-and you have no expectation that they're going to take enforcement action, it would make sense. It's more efficient and it's not necessarily less effective."

Swann's security officers put in 40 hours a week, and they're supplemented by part-timers who staff the desks at residence halls and also lock down the buildings on campus. The college also has a Rock Island police officer who patrols the college three nights a week in a squad car. As for local police, there's no arguing over jurisdiction. Swann says he's glad they're around, since his modest force doesn't have the power of arrest. "We assist them any way we can," he says. "If a traffic accident occurs on campus, we respond to assist with traffic control. It frees up the sworn officer to deal with important issues. They've been good to us. If we call, they come."

Yet how can any security force handle a situation as time-critical as Virginia Tech? "Wait for SWAT?" asks Murphy. "I don't think so. You hear somebody shooting kids, I'm not going to stand around and wait." But did the staff at Virginia Tech wait too long between the first two murders at 7:15 a.m. and the mass slaughter that began two hours later and ended minutes after city police arrived? "Generally speaking," says Longmire, a cop for 30 years, "when a 911 call goes out and the officer arrives as scheduled to find two people dead, that sets in motion a process-protecting the crime scene and making sure there are no other victims. That takes time. A two-hour gap? I don't think two hours is a lot of time to be critical of."

If campus police forces aren't large enough to prevent or quickly respond to the violence of another Virginia Tech, can technology help? Perhaps, but there are no simple answers. "In the dormitory or dozens of dormitories, do you want to spend money to screen against weapons? How do you staff it, how do you fund it, what do you do when you find a gun, a knife? What is a weapon?" asks Murphy. "They're having door and window locks assessed, but the people who have the guns are the students, and they're already in the building."

"Assuming somebody's there 24/7 and you've got a thousand cameras, how many people are you going to hire to watch the monitors?" asks Longmire. He points out that there is new technology available that can alert campus security to unusual activity and help reduce the security workload. But it can only do so much. "Most people who carry guns do it in their own pocket anyway," he says. No one's figured out how to compensate for that with television monitors. And then there's the problem of budget. "You want cameras, locks, access control. It's not how much you want but how much can you afford?" says Murphy. "Do you protect the dorms, the administration buildings, the classrooms? That's where all the media goes crazy. Do you have all that in your building?"

Such technology has other shortcomings. Take the case of Jeanne Ann Clery, who was raped and murdered in her dorm at Lehigh University (Pa.) in 1986. Lehigh had installed automatic locks on all the doors. But the killer, Joseph Henry, another student, was able to enter Clery's dorm because the door was propped open by pizza boxes. Following its own investigation, Lehigh concluded that its safety efforts had been adequate. However, Clery's parents, Howard and Connie Clery, filed suit against Lehigh. During their investigation, the Clerys discovered that the door to Jeanne's dorm had been found propped open 181 times in the four months prior to her murder. In fact, to their surprise, 38 violent crimes (including robbery, assault, and rape) had occurred at the university between 1983 and 1986. No one had told them when Jeanne had been searching for colleges.

Lehigh's security force consisted of 12 guards for its 5,400 students, a much higher per capita ratio than that of Knox or Augustana. There are no federally mandated guidelines for the ratio of campus police officers to students. And in the case of Knox's Andrea Racibozynski, who was murdered so quickly, having security nearby didn't help.

The Clerys lobbied for a national law requiring colleges to disclose information on crimes. In November 1990 President George H. W. Bush signed the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act, aka the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires each institution that participates in student aid programs to publish annual reports that include the latest available crime statistics for three years: the number of liquor law violations, drug-related violations, vehicle thefts, burglaries, robberies, acts of arson, aggravated assaults, sex offenses, cases of manslaughter, and murders. The report also includes incidents of weapons possession if they resulted in arrest or a referral to the school's disciplinary process. The statistics are broken down by criminal offenses on campus, in campus residence halls, off campus, and on public property. The report is also required to publish the school's security policies, and enrollment applicants must be informed of the report and presented with the opportunity to obtain one. The Clerys also started the nonprofit organization Security on Campus Inc., which also publishes the crime stats for each school. To take one college at random: On the Lawrence campus of the University of Kansas in 2005, there were four forced sex offenses, four aggravated assaults, 74 burglaries, and eight motor vehicle thefts, compared with six sex offenses, four assaults, 86 burglaries, and five vehicle thefts in 2003. There were no other violations on record.

The Clery Act also requires that colleges and universities provide timely reports about crimes that are considered an ongoing threat to other students and employees, such as the presence of a serial rapist or killer, or a burglar on a spree. And schools with a police or security force must maintain a daily log that records all crimes that have been reported under the force's jurisdiction. The entries must include the nature, date, time, and location of the crime, and the disposition of the complaint. The logs are to be open to the public within two days of the reported crime, except when the victim's confidentiality and safety are involved.

In answer to Murphy's earlier question--How do you plan for something like Virginia Tech?--in short, you can't. Even in the quietest towns or in the calmest countries with the strictest gun control, someone can go off on a murder spree. Not only can you not turn a campus into a prison with armed guards patrolling the perimeter, you don't want to.

"There's an ambiance, an atmosphere, that a college wants to have," says Murphy. "And being a lock-downed security institute is not it." So the question is, how much security do we want before it becomes a hindrance to the public and a roadblock to the philosophy of an open university?

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