Would Public Safety be able to prevent a shooting?

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Would Public Safety be able to prevent a shooting?

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By Owen Fletcher
Princetonian Staff Writer

About a week before last week's shootings at Virginia Tech, the University made the prescient purchase of a mass alert system to notify students of campus security crises.

The University's system, which messages students' cell phones or other portable devices, has not yet been fully implemented, but it signals a heightened concern about campus security that existed even before the shootings.

But the shootings have ignited a national debate on methods to prevent and effectively respond to crises and have led to questions about campus security procedures.

Some Virginia Tech students have criticized campus safety officials for their slow response to gunman Cho Seung-Hui's murder of two students. Campus police notified students by email about two hours after the incident, but by then, Cho had begun his second round of shooting, taking 30 more lives and his own.

Crises like last week's shooting are difficult to predict, Public Safety Deputy Director Charles Davall said. "You can never totally be prepared for something like this," he said. "It could happen anywhere."

At a Senate hearing yesterday on campus security, Public Safety Director Steven Healy recommended that more universities adopt "mass notification systems that are capable of reaching community members."

Getting students to provide their portable contact information for this system, however, could be difficult, Healy testified. "Even if you have a system that can reach a person's cell phone" or other portable device, he said, "they still have to be willing to give you those numbers."

Healy, who is also president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said there is room for nationwide improvement on campus security.

"[M]ost colleges and universities have plans" to respond to crises, he said, but "we're a long way from being able to say ... that all institutions know how those plans will play."

Since last week's shootings, Public Safety has begun a review of campus security plans. Davall said that the department tentatively has arranged for Mercer County officials to train its officers.

In the event of a crisis, Davall said, Public Safety would respond by securing the area and calling local armed police, since campus police do not carry weapons. They would then notify all University members by email. But one problem with this method is that "students have to be looking at [a computer] to get the email," he said.

Healy also advocated "community policing" in his testimony. As part of Public Safety's policy, officers are required to patrol campus by foot for at least two hours a day so that students and faculty feel comfortable approaching them, officer Jim Lanzi said.

The department's efforts to engage the community can make people more comfortable in reporting suspicious activity, Lanzi said, but they are also meant to educate the community since students sometimes have a "false sense of security" on campus.

While these initiatives would not directly prevent an event like the Virginia Tech shooting, Lanzi said, the atmospheric difference they make could help increase the efficacy of a response.

Princeton "is generally a safe area ... but [students] always need to be aware of their surroundings," Davall said.

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Original Source: <a href=http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/archives/2007/04/24/news/18230.shtml> Daily Princetonian - April 24, 2007</a>

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Owen Fletcher

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Daily Princetonian

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2007-06-22

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Sara Hood

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Kavita Saini <ksaini@Princeton.EDU>

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eng

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Owen Fletcher, "Would Public Safety be able to prevent a shooting?," in The April 16 Archive, Item #585, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/585 (accessed July 22, 2014).