Safety forum turns to Va. Tech shooting

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  • Safety forum turns to Va. Tech shooting

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Safety forum turns to Va. Tech shooting

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The focus of a discussion between public safety officials on area crime issues quickly turned to Virginia Tech at the 2007 Chapel Hill-Carrboro-Orange County Forum sponsored by WCHL.

The forum was intended as an opportunity to discuss local issues, but the Monday shootings left leaders reflective.

Chapel Hill has experienced similar incidents on a smaller scale, such as when alumnus Mohammad Taheri-Azar drove through the Pit in March 2006, injuring nine students, and the 1995 Wendell Williamson shooting, in which a law student opened fire on Franklin Street, killing two and injuring two others, including a Chapel Hill police officer.

"This community can associate somewhat with the community of Blacksburg because we've come so close ourselves," said Dan Jones, Chapel Hill fire chief.

Interim Chapel Hill police Chief Maj. Brian Curran said he also noted the similarities between the two campuses.

"It's something that we're afraid could have happened here."

Panelists discussed the town's preparedness to handle such an event if something similar was to happen at UNC.

Jones noted how difficult it would be to secure the campus. He said every exit door to every building would need to be guarded, in addition to every intersection, sidewalk and open area.

"It's easy to see that in a matter of minutes you'd need over 1,000 officers to close off the campus," Jones said. "That'd be just about every officer in Orange, Chatham, Durham and Wake counties on any given day."

Capt. Charles Blackwood, of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, said he felt the Va. Tech emergency response was the best it could have been given the magnitude of the tragedy.

"I think they did as good a job as they can, and I think we would do the same," Blackwood said. "You try to have a good plan in place, and you hope you can respond in such a situation."

Many of the participants noted how failures in addressing mental health issues lead to safety issues, both for the individual and for the town residents.

Joyce Kuhn, executive director of Orange Chatham Alternative Sentencing Inc., said it is important to provide services for those in need, something panelists agreed has become more difficult to do as more of the burden is shifted to local municipalities.

"There has to be more of these things so people have the care they need," she said.

District Court Judge Joe Buckner said that only an estimated 1 percent of those held at Orange County Jail for misdemeanors are repeat offenders, with 10 or more charges, but that they create problems for the entire criminal system with their recurring offenses.

Curran reiterated that point, and said what frustrates police is their relative inability to intervene in situations where an individual has not committed a crime and is unwilling to seek mental help.

"We're dealing with a relatively small population, but we're dealing with them over and over again," Curran said. "We just kind of stand by and watch these folks spiral out of control - there's really very little we can do."

And arresting individuals with mental health issues on minor offenses creates overcrowding in the jails and forces the county to assume costs of treating and housing the individuals.

"You can't really arrest yourselves out of a problem," Curran said.

Public safety incidents have risen in all areas of the county, and many attribute the increases to the influx of residents into the region.

"Growth is all across the public service spectrum," Jones said. "We're seeing a more transient population that makes all of these issues ... more difficult."

Part of approaching those difficulties more successfully includes adjusting to the fact that Chapel Hill is growing.

"People still think they're living in a small town," said Donna Kay Smith, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Center.

"People are having to make that transition of recognizing that this is not a small town area anymore."

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Original Source:<a href=http://media.www.dailytarheel.com/media/storage/paper885/news/2007/04/19/OnlineExclusives/Safety.Forum.Turns.To.Va.Tech.Shooting-2851519.shtml>Daily Tar Heel - April 19, 2007</a>

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Sara Gregory

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Daily Tar Heel

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2007-07-27

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Sara Hood

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Kevin Schwartz <kschwartz@unc.edu>

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eng

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Sara Gregory, "Safety forum turns to Va. Tech shooting," in The April 16 Archive, Item #835, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/835 (accessed September 30, 2014).