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Campus Security

Oklahoma officials hope to avert such tragedies like the Virginia Tech shootings and keep Oklahoma off the nightly news. We visit with Phil Berkenbile, co-chair of the CLASS task force about designing a statewide campus security plan.
Campus Security

Campus security

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Campus Life and Safety and Security (CLASS) Task Force

Show Dates

Show 0808: Campus Security

Air date: February 24, 2008

 

Transcript

Rob:  It’s been over a week since the campus of Northern Illinois University turned deadly.  When it was over, a mentally distraught student had killed five people and wounded twenty more classmates, before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide, the latest wake up call for what has become an ever-increasing problem.  As our Brian Bendele reports, state officials hope to avert such school shooting tragedies, and keep Oklahoma off the nightly news.

Brian:  Since the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech on April 16th of 2007, these sounds have sent a warning call for all campuses, especially here in Oklahoma, Governor Brad Henry.

Governor Henry:  We began to ask ourselves, could this happen in Oklahoma?  And how can we prevent such a tragedy from occurring in Oklahoma?

Brian:  At a press conference, Governor Henry unveiled the recommendations made by a task force assembled shortly after the Virginia Tech shooting.

Governor Henry:  We must take this report seriously, and we must all work together to implement its recommendations.  We must do whatever it takes to make our campuses as safe as possible.

Brian:  The Campus Life And Safety and Security task force, or CLASS, consisted of 15 officials from higher ed, career technology ed, public safety and health services, chairman of the task force, Chancellor Glen Johnson.

Glen Johnson:  We were one of the first states in the country to respond with the creation of a task force after the tragedy.  Being safe and secure has got to be at the top of the priority list, and certainly that’s the way we approached this task force.

Brian:  The task force estimated college and career tech campuses need an additional 16-million dollars annually to fulfill safety needs, something Johnson says can be found in a variety of sources such as federal grants.

Johnson:  Too often, we come forward and say, we have a need; we need the money; and that’s all you say.  I think what we felt we ought to do is define the need; but then say, we believe there could be federal dollars available; we believe there could be grant opportunities available; there could even be private foundation dollars.

Brian:  Another one of the task force’s biggest proponents, and members, is University of Central Oklahoma president, Roger Webb, who at one time was a police officer, himself.

Roger Webb:  You know if you see something, say something.  If someone’s behavior is strange, or if there’s a package in a place that it shouldn’t be, tell someone.  Many of us in the academic world believe that serious crime is something that happens somewhere else, not on our campuses.  But Virginia Tech was a wake-up call.  It made everyone realize that, hey, this can happen even on a very serene campus.

Brian:  And it’s campuses like here, at UCO, where the task force recommendations will go into effect.

Dispatch:  Car 20 are you going to check the van?

Jeremy Biggs:  Affirmative.

Brian:  Detective Jeremy Biggs takes care of an open van door.

Biggs:  I’m going to be 1098.  All the other doors on the vehicle were secured.   It appears they’ve just left the door open.  Nothing has been removed from the vehicle.

Brian:  Biggs is one of 17 police officers at UCO, and says the majority of the 15,000 student population is commuters.

Biggs:  We’ve got a lot of parking lots and cars that are always coming and going.  Campus has a lot of commuter students.  So there’s a lot of traffic in and out between class times.  We try to make sure we are all over campus all day long, and we are constantly on the move looking for things.

Brian:  And while things are typically quiet on campus, the university has had the foresight to create a threat assessment team to handle special situations.

Jeff Harp:  Our job is to come together, periodically, for routine purposes, but also to come together quickly if any one element or our campus community identifies a potential risk.

Brian:  Director of public safety, Jeff Harp, says this team would handle cases where a security warning has increased within a situation.

Harp:  We all come together, share the information, make a plan of what we think we need to do from there, as opposed to one office simply trying to handle that and work it through to a conclusion.

Brian:  Which takes a campus-wide communication program that deals with every entity, from students, to faculty, to counselors.

Bruce Lochner:  This is a time of change in people’s lives, separation from family, maybe, their neighborhoods, or their communities, to come to college.  It is also the time where serious mental illness develops in adults as well.  So having a counseling center in colleges is very important.

Brian:  Bruce Lochner is the director of student counseling at UCO and says even though the current staff of 4 is short of the task force’s recommended, 1 for every 1,000, students; he hopes the changes will bring more awareness to the importance of counseling and how it can help distinguish escalating circumstances.

Lochner:  And that’s why counseling is so important.  If people are able to talk about some of the things that are, in a lot of respects, unspeakable to themselves, they are less likely to actually do those things.  So counseling serves a vital role in safety.

Brian:  And safety serves as a vital role in students getting a proper education.

Rob:  Joining me now is the co-chair of the CLASS task force, Phil Berkenbile, state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.  So, Dr Berkenbile, how hard is it to design a campus security plan?

Phil Berkenbile:  Well, I think when you look at the varied degrees of institutions we have across Oklahoma in higher ed and career tech, it is tremendously hard to develop a plan that individually meets everybody’s needs, and at the same time takes into consideration urban versus rural, branch campuses, the layout of each campus.

Rob:  Now what have you done on the state level to increase security?

Berkenbile:  Well, I think when you’re looking at, here at the Department of CareerTech, one of the things that we’ve done is make sure we have cameras on all sides of the building.  If you’re not wearing your name badge, like I am today, we stop and ask you in the hall if we can help you.  We’ve locked more of our doors, and only have several entrances that are open.  I think you’re seeing more and more of that at institutions of higher ed, where they’ve taken the outside handles off of doors and limited access, and also have key cards to get into some of the residence halls.  So, it’s been a major effort.