Although the perception of America’s colleges as tranquil oases of learning may have always been little more than
a fanciful image, a harsh reality faces
every community college president
today. We are confronted with a challenge framed by a simple question:
How do we keep our campuses safe?
Whether the weapons wielded by
potential attackers are high-powered rifles
or silent cyber probes, the task of keeping
the contemporary community college safe
poses a distinctly 21st-century challenge.
No longer valid is the affable image of the
“campus cop” directing anxious students
towards the registration line or setting up
cones to reserve parking spaces. We need
a professional public safety force, one that
is well-trained to support the needs of the
diverse student populations we serve and
one fully capable of responding to today’s
Public safety officers have not always
been top-of-mind. We often viewed them
as handling low-level crimes, managing
crowds and issuing parking tickets. Since
the year 2000, 17 active shooter incidents
have occurred at college campuses, jolting
us into contemporary reality. Given the
national love/hate relationship with guns
and gun control, incidents such as these
pose a quiet but constant threat. Although
the risk of active shooter events occurring
at one of our 1,103 community colleges
may be small, the impact should one occur
can be catastrophic, as our colleagues in
Oregon, Texas and Arizona know firsthand.
Given the millions of students we
serve annually, the potential for some
level of disaffection is high. Even at
my own institution, we discovered that
two former students were perpetrators in active shooter events in Florida
and Maryland. Although some debate
whether college public safety officers
should be armed, realistically, even with
an armed public safety force, no campus
can be fully protected against a gunman
truly intent upon human destruction.
However, that should not stop us from
doing all we can to prepare. A commitment
like this requires investments in technology, personnel and training as well as the
development of active protocols to support
the public safety infrastructure. Whether
a quarrel in the cafeteria turns ugly, a cell
phone is stolen or an active shooter appears
on the library roof, we need a skilled team
of public safety officers ready to act. And
they need the proper tools to assist them.
Today, surveillance cameras, classroom
locks, campus alert systems, emergency
call boxes, panic buttons and mobile apps
are as necessary as desks and chairs.
Campus safety is not a job for public
safety officers alone. Officers must be well
trained, but so must the college community.
We must assemble crisis intervention
teams involving experts in facilities, counseling, communications, and emergency
management. Proper education and training, along with the dreaded, but necessary,
campus emergency drills are vital for all
students, faculty and staff.
Threats to academe are now a fact
of life with safety breaches of all types
occurring on campuses of all sizes and
composition. What we do to prepare for
them will determine how successfully
we can deflect them.
Sandra L. Kurtinitis is president of Community College of
Baltimore County and chair of the AACC Board of Directors.
T E R Sandra L. Kurtinitis
DIREC TOR OF PUBLICATIONS
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LSC Communications–Liberty, Mo.
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Volume 89, Issue 4.
Digital: 2151-755X TM
“Campus safety is not a job for public safety officers
alone. Officers must be well trained, but so must the