Federal officials encourage best practices for dealing with campus security

By Aaron Wells, Chattanooga, TN–Federal officials plan to conduct studies at several universities across the country to develop best practices that address potentially dangerous situations and crimes on college campuses.

UTC Police Chief Robert Ratchford said colleges are uniquely equipped to perform research and develop strategies that could be introduced to entire communities.

“Universities are known for innovation and fresh ideas and for being able to coordinate with external agencies and internal resources to apply best practices,” Ratchford said. “It’s not easier to implement, but the willingness and ability to study best practices is beneficial to universities.”

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently designated seven schools whose leadership will design and implement strategies that could possibly serve as a national model for law enforcement and campus administrators as part of the Campus Resilience Pilot Program (CR).

Campuses chosen to lead the pilot effort include Drexel University, Eastern Connecticut State University, Green River Community College, Navajo Technical College, Texas A&M University, Tougaloo College and the University of San Francisco.

According to the DHS press release, officials at these universities will draw on existing resources and collaborate with state, local and federal stakeholders to develop new strategies in order to make campuses safer and more prepared to deal with crime.

“The CR Pilot will emphasize the importance of DHS’ Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) ‘Whole Community’ approach to planning and resilience efforts and will highlight the needs of various student populations. The selected colleges and universities will help develop and pilot an emergency preparedness and resilience planning program that builds from each campus’ ongoing efforts and facilitated by community engagement, local stakeholders, campus leadership and students,” according to the news release.

Ratchford said the University Police Department actively collaborates with a variety of outside agencies in order to pool resources to conduct trainings and aid in legal issues.

“We collaborate on everything with external agencies, everyone from the DHS, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville Police Department and departments from other UT campuses,” Ratchford said.

Dr. Roger Thompson, associate professor and chief departmental advisor for the criminal justice department, said universities are often chosen to conduct research due to the wide array of resources at their disposal.

“The faculty have credentials, they’ve already had to go through the process,” Thompson said. “They already have a target audience, so in terms of participation, attitudes it lends itself to that research mode. To be able to draw upon immediate feedback, universities are in a desirable position for that.”

Thompson said this issue is especially pertinent after the rash of mass shootings experienced in different part of the country in 2012 and after a man allegedly stabbed at least 14 people at a Texas community college last week.

“The bigger question is, how do we handle that on campus and if we see mental strains, what are going to be some protocols?” Thompson said. “Each faculty member has their own threshold, and when they see things that begin to take on threatening behaviors, they will begin to respond or reach out to someone else who can offer them some advice.”

Thompson said this research could provide other universities a framework to effectively deal with troubled students or instances of crime on campus.

“In part this is good that there is some level of study in saying, ‘what do universities do,’” Thompson said. “Do we know how all those parts come together in the puzzle, and are there any rough edges that we need to go back, take a look at and then try to polish?”

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