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Campus security plans gain momentum in aftermath of Virginia Tech shootings.

Many believe a lesson learned is the only silver lining to the Virginia Tech tragedy. From the shootings on April 16 that took the lives of 33 faculty and students, campus and city officials across the country have constructed massive re-evaluations of on-campus and off-campus safety precautions at their local universities and colleges,

Turning Plans into Actions

St. Cloud, Minn., Mayor Dave Kleis is one who's jumping right into action, declaring the need of a police service at St. Cloud State University. Kleis said he'll suggest the university contract with the city to put five officers and a precinct on campus when he talks with incoming university President Earl H. Potter III, who will assume the position this summer.

"This type of public safety partnership is long overdue," Kleis said during his recent State of the City speech.

Members of NLC's University Communities Council (UCC) are also taking note of re-examinations of on- and off-campus safety procedures that especially involve college/town cooperation.

UCC Vice Chair Joycelyn Johnson, council member in Winston-Salem, N.C., can attest to that. With a considerable number of colleges such as Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University, Forsyth Technical Community College and North Carolina School of the Arts, which all vary in sizes, there has been and will continue to be a collaboration between many of the schools and the city's police department, especially in the event of a shooting.

Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, Johnson said that not only is the police department "beefing up" around campuses, but schools in the city are also working to prevent incidents by promoting the importance of reporting concerns,

"One thing we're trying to encourage is, if there are issues on campus, notify an instructor or administrator," Johnson explained. "[At Virginia Tech] those concems were noted but not completely followed through. For issues, it's important we take a closer look ... not just for physical issues, but mental as well."

In light of some criticism that Virginia Tech took too long to properly notify students of the first slayings on its campus and that it relied on school e-mail accounts, which can often go unchecked by students, to warn students about the gunman, Johnson commented that, in certain situations, e-mail messages can be a successful alert option.

She explained that the same week of the shootings at Virginia Tech, the North Carolina School of Arts sent out a decoy e-mail to keep students away from the area of a planned police raid that was carried out at a garage near campus, Students were alerted when the raid was underway and the area was locked down for two hours.

Winston-Salem Assistant Police Chief Ronny Abemathy pointed out that five colleges in the city have all agreed to have a conversation with the police department about security training and tactical responses to emergencies,

One school in particular created a team before the Virginia Tech tragedy to focus on campus safety.

"The Winston-Salem State chancellor, Michelle Howard-Vital, already formed a commission to address safety issues--the Winston-Salem State University's Chancellor's Commission on Campus and Community Safety," Abemathy said. "But now the commission is factoring in what happened at Virginia Tech. ... Other schools are following suit."

Evaluating and Talking

Referring to Virginia Tech as a long-time benchmark for the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., UCC Steering Committee Member David B. Stevens, council member in Lexington and former UCC chair, said, "there's been much cross-transfer," between the schools on many issues, especially since, "Virginia Tech is just the next state over." This really made it hit home for University of Kentucky students.

Since the shootings in Virginia, the University of Kentucky student government has been working to pass a resolution on campus safety and the police forces of both area universities--the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University--have had a meeting with citizens to review campus safety plans.

Concerns, comments and ideas generated at the meeting are awaiting review by the city council.

Continuing Success

There's been much talk around Mansfield, Conn., about the Virginia Tech shootings, but at the present time, Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut will continue to rely on their tried and true security measures and policies, according to UCC Chair Elizabeth "Betsy" Paterson, mayor of Mansfield.

The universities' safety measures include police patrolling, "Blue Light" emergency call stations and putting posters in dorms of wanted persons.

"The universities have a pretty good handle on containing issues and events and reacting," Paterson said. "They already have mechanisms in place if anything big happens."

Just last weekend, the University of Connecticut hosted its annual Spring Weekend, a funfilled event for students and residents in the area that includes concerts, games and a carnival. The celebration attracts 12,000 to 15,000 people a year. Extra safety precautions are always taken during the event, including extra police patrolling, and like most years, no major incident occurred.

"This year students were even more well-behaved than usual," Paterson said. "Maybe students were still apprehensive due to the Virginia Tech shootings."

Details: To learn more about NLC's University Communities Council, go to its webpage
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Title Annotation:Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Author:Duvall, Cherie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Apr 30, 2007
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