Security 101: Salem State and other campuses step up safety


Security 101: Salem State and other campuses step up safety


By Dinah Cardin/
GateHouse News Service
Fri Jul 13, 2007, 12:29 PM EDT

Salem -

Paducah. Jonesboro. Columbine. They may sound like destinations toured by a small garage band, but if we reach back in memory, they are actually cities that have suffered at the hands of teenage angst combined with dangerous weapons.

The Virginia Tech massacre this past spring was a wake-up call to institutions of higher education all over the world. High schools may have their metal detectors and movies starring Michelle Pfeiffer about tough street kids and their violent behavior, but colleges have so far been wide open to strangers and incident.

As Shane Rodriguez, deputy director of the Salem State College Police Department, says, when Seung Hui Cho fatally shot 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech, he created "our 9-11."

Last July, campus police placed an officer on the task of emergency preparedness. But Virginia Tech put the wheels into rapid motion.

"When people send their sons and daughters to college, the last thing they expect is that they will be gunned down in a classroom or residence hall," says Rodriguez.

That's why on June 29, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett convened the first annual Essex County College Summit, linking campus security departments with the state police and the FBI.

Officers from Salem State, Northern Essex Community, Endicott, Marion Court and Gordon colleges discussed their various security measures and listened to Col. Mark Delaney from the state police outline a training program for dealing specifically with school shooters.

One of the most unique questions posed to Delaney was whether students should be locked in or out during a hostile shooter situation. His answer? Less moving parts means less confusion for law enforcement. Lock the doors, get away from the windows and wait for the "cavalry."

The cavalry could be any number of local, state and federal law enforcement officers. But getting them on campus can take a while. That's why it comes down to campus police to initially act in a situation.

The FBI terrorism division told the officers to develop a plan and then stick with it, practice it and learn from it. Without being too invasive in students' lives.

Part of this, says Rodriguez, involves reaching out to police departments in Swampscott and other surrounding towns, including them in the plan to call in every available law enforcement officer.

Officers from Salem State College will participate in the state police's active shooter program later this month, along with officers from the Salem Police Department. The state-funded program involves donning swat team equipment and simulating locking down a school to reach the ultimate goal of eliminating the violent threat and saving lives. The only cost to police departments is for the paint balls they will be shooting out of their weapons.

<b>Being prepared</b>

Across the North Shore, college officials are working to tighten security in time for the fall semester.

Of them all, Salem State is probably at the highest risk for a violent attack since the city is difficult to get in and out of, the college encompasses four separate campuses and two new residence halls are being built. It&#39;s not only the largest in the area and constantly growing, Salem State is a big commuter school and is soon going to university status. Needless to say, there is a lot going on.

All of this poses a big challenge for safety. Arming officers at Salem State is simply a necessity to protect the students and staff, says the chief of campus police. They started carrying patrol pistols a couple of years ago.

"We finally came to the conclusion it was time," says Salem State chief of police Bill Anglin. "We&#39;re our own little city now."

Schools are also looking to use technology to keep students away from campus in case of such an emergency. For two years, the state is funding a text messaging system on all state college campuses that will alert students of emergencies as well as snow days.

During registration, the college will be collecting cell phone numbers from students. It&#39;s been proven, says Robert Paterson, chief information officer at Salem State, that you only need 65 to 70 percent of student phone numbers for the system to work.

There are enough students hanging out together that the word gets around.

"The big thing that we learned from Virginia Tech is you need to have multiple channels of communication to the community," says Paterson.

The lesson of overloaded communication channels has been learned on 9-11 and during Hurricane Katrina. Even on Thanksgiving, phone lines get jammed. The school is still working out the final cost when the two-year state funded initiative runs out.

Salem State is the only college in Essex County with armed officers. But that could soon change.

"We&#39;re moving closer in that direction," says John Soucy, environmental, health and safety officer at Gordon College.

This might come as a surprise for a religious institution.

"We like to think the Lord is protecting us," says Soucy.

Still, he says, public safety is service oriented and having firearms makes you a better servant.

"It&#39;s better than standing and watching it happen," he says.

<b>&#39;No warnings&#39;</b>

At last week&#39;s summit, Julia Cowley of the FBI&#39;s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime told the assembled that there are three major categories of violent youth — the mentally ill, the antisocial and the "normal."

They have often engaged in behavior that has caused concern for others. In a study of 41 offenders from 37 schools, the findings showed that the violent youth almost always felt bullied.

Kip Kinkel, from Cowley&#39;s home state of Oregon, said over and over that he had "no choice" when he killed his parents and then shot students. Beware, said Cowley, of the "injustice collector."

But school shootings can also result from the angry ex-husband of a faculty member, she reminded the group.

In a slide presentation, she showed disturbing drawings done by the offenders. They were often dark and violent, showing the classic violent youth characteristics of narcissism and lack of empathy.

They often tell no one beforehand if they are serious about doing the act and may plan it forever.

"Eric and Dylan planned their attack for nearly a year and there were no warnings," she said of the Columbine shooters, speaking almost intimately about those in her area of expertise.

Matt Gallagher of the FBI&#39;s Victim Assistance Program is someone school officials don&#39;t want to get to know. His office assisted Virginia Tech after the shootings. Gallagher spoke of the mistakes made there, like when faculty members were counseling one another.

This summer, Salem State is refining their plan, talking about resources and grants. Rodriguez is putting in long hours during a relatively quiet time for a college campus. His enthusiasm for the topic of preparing for a school shooting seemingly has no bounds.

"We don&#39;t want to be caught off guard," he says. "We want to be as prepared as possible. Virginia Tech forced us to take a real hard look at it. We&#39;re diligent now."


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Dinah Cardin




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Dinah Cardin, “Security 101: Salem State and other campuses step up safety,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,