Awareness, action keys to campus safety, panel says
From left, Bill Stanton, NBC and CBS security analyst, Dr. Marisa Randazzo, psychologist and threat management expert, and Darby Dickerson, dean of Stetson University College of Law, discussed safety on and off campus during the fifth annual North Carolina Higher Education Safety Webinar & Symposium held Friday at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.
(Apr. 8, 2011)
By Crystal Baity
Changing students’ mindset about safety on and off campus is challenging but doable, according to experts at the fifth annual North Carolina Higher Education Safety Webinar and Symposium held Friday.
The symposium kicked off with a panel featuring Bill Stanton, an NBC and CBS security analyst, Dr. Marisa Randazzo, an internationally-renowned psychologist and threat management expert, and Darby Dickerson, dean of the Stetson University College of Law.
Shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois universities and the recent attack on Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords underscore the importance of educating students, faculty and staff to trust their instincts and ask for help, the panelists said.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Randazzo, who co-authored “The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams” and who is a founding partner of Threat Assessment Resources International. “When we see things and think ‘that’s not right,’ we don’t have to stop what’s happening, but we can call someone.”
The majority of shooters and attackers are not psychopaths or sociopaths, she said. Most school shooters in recent high-profile instances of violence were suicidal before or at the time of their crime, based on data collected from interviews across the country. “These people got to the point where they felt they had no option,” she said.
In most instances, they also told someone about their plans, and still didn’t want to go through with their attacks until the end. “These events are very much preventable,” Randazzo said. “If we can figure out if someone is on that pathway to violence, we can stop them.”
Each person on a campus, from cafeteria worker to vice chancellor, shares a responsibility for safety. “Every single person can serve a critical role in preventing crime on campus,” Randazzo said.
A series of undercover videos shown at the seminar starring Stanton, posing as a criminal, showed the ease in which a crime could be committed, from entering a locked dorm at night to roam hallways unescorted to breaking into cars and houses in daylight as a neighbor watched and did nothing.
In the video, no students questioned why he was on their hall, even though he was older than most students. He asked a woman to borrow scissors and she complied.
“Students live in a bubble,” Stanton said. “They don’t have to be paranoid, but prepared.”
Dickerson said students have a duty to report if someone is propping a dorm door open or letting in people who don’t belong. Most have not been making their own safety decisions before heading to college because their parents took those steps.
Sometimes students are afraid to call police because they think it’s only for emergencies, the panelists said. Or, they hesitate to question something unusual like a 45-year-old man on the hall for fear of being rude. “It’s okay to be a little bit rude, especially in the service of safety,” Randazzo said.
Stanton said people in general are lazy and self-absorbed, busy on their phones, computers or rushing here and there. It didn’t surprise him when, in the video, several people saw him use a cinderblock to smash car windows but did not call police.
Randazzo called it “bystander apathy,” or defaulting to social norms. If no one is bothered, why should they be, she said. Or they think someone has already reported a crime, and they do nothing. Law enforcement would rather be called and make a determination, rather than not hear about it all, she said.
From campus preparedness to cyberbullying or cyberstalking, there is an emerging standard of care for what universities should be doing, the panel said. “You need a comprehensive plan for your campus and culture,” Dickerson said. “Don’t let a tragedy impose these changes. Be proactive."
Dickerson said some trends to watch are:
• Allowing guns on campus.
Arizona has approved legislation allowing guns in common areas but not in dorms or classrooms. Legislation is pending in Texas that would allow students with concealed weapon permits to carry guns on campus. “The studies I’ve seen having guns on campus will not make it safer,” she said. “If you care, speak up.”
• Synthetic drugs such as “bath salts” and other similar products sold legally over the counter.
Each time a law is passed to close a loophole, manufacturers change the chemical composition of products to continue making them. Educating students about their harmful effects is imperative.
• Alcohol use among students is still the number one safety issue on campus.
Some 100 people attended the symposium, held in the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. And thousands more watched online across the state and around the world, said Peter Romary, an attorney and director of Student Legal Services. The event was sponsored by Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina and Qverity, a Greenville-based provider of behavioral analysis and screening services by experts in deception detection and interrogation.