Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Campus Safety at Long Beach City College

My college's political science department -- and especially Professor Gene Goss and his political science students' club -- sponsored a Town Hall forum yesterday on the topic of campus safety following the massacre at Virginia Tech. The panel was entitled "Can It Happen Here? A Town Hall Meeting on the Virginia Tech Tragedy." I was one of five speakers on the panel. The Long Beach Press-Telegram did a write-up on the event, "LBCC Safety Steps Weighed," which provides a nice overview of the forum:

Installing phones in Long Beach City College's classrooms and hallways was one idea floated Monday during a panel discussion on ways to improve campus security in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre.

A Long Beach police officer, three faculty members and the student government president discussed the state of security at the two-campus college and what steps students, faculty, staff and administrators should take to prepare for emergencies such as a shooting rampage.

Several panelists stressed the need for installing phones in classrooms that would connect with campus police and emergency services. They pointed out faculty and students now have to rely on their cell phones in emergencies. Cell phone 911 calls are routed to the California Highway Patrol dispatch center, creating delays.

"We do need to have some sort of system to make sure that we have hard-line access," said Gad Perez, president of the Associated Student Body, the college's student government.

Panelist Donald Douglas, an LBCC political science professor, said that the college needs to ensure that faculty are regularly trained in emergency procedures. Faculty members should be able to distribute handouts to students describing the safety procedures, he added.
Two of my political science colleagues on the panel are quoted in the article, as well as the police department's representative:

Gun control was a major topic of discussion, with some students asking the panel whether, in the wake of the tragedy, students and faculty with proper licenses should be allowed to bring their guns to school to defend themselves during attacks. Drugs and weapons are prohibited at LBCC.

Faculty member and panelist Charlotte Joseph said that the college should continue to have a weapons-free policy.

"It's the job of the college to make sure that we are as safe as possible," she said.

Panelist David Fritz, an officer with the Long Beach Police Department - which provides security at LBCC - noted that few gun owners are properly trained in the weapon's use.

Police need student tips and support to maintain security, Fritz said. Students shouldn't view the sharing of important safety information with police as "snitching," he said.

Panelist Elliot Rock, a political science professor, said that the college administration often is constrained legally from taking action against problem students. For example, expelling a student could open up the college to lawsuits, he added.

"There are no easy solutions here," Rock said.
I covered the issue of firearms on campus in an earlier post, "Concealed Weapons Permits and Campus Safety." I noted then that I'd be returning to the issues surrounding the Virginia Tech tragedy and campus safety in future posts. I have been especially affected by the shootings. This tragedy has had a greater impact on my thinking than most other types of calamities, and I've put my concerns into action on campus. I wrote a college wide e-mail letter on emergency preparedness that was well received, and that note has been part of an increase in safety dialogue on campus. For example, in addition to yesterday's Town Hall forum, the Office of Student Health and Psychological Services also held an earlier workshop to provide faculty members resources in identifying and referring students who may need counseling services.

The interest level on security reform across my campus is considerable, and I hope the progress continues into the fall semester and beyond. We have a lot of gaps in our existing disaster planning regime. My school is like thousands of others around the country currently grappling with steps toward increasing campus safeguards. Check out this U.S. News and World Report article, "
Toward a Safer Campus," for one of the better articles I've read on emergency preparedness in the aftermath of the shootings.

Note also that one of my colleagues forwarded me the UCLA Psychology Department's "
Center for Mental Health" webpage, which is a treasure-trove of information on threat assessment, crisis prevention and response, and psychological services. (Click the link "Responding to a Crisis" especially.)

If anyone has any interesting stories or suggestions about improving campus security, I'd love to hear them.

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