The Virgina Tech legacy: campus police are prepared

(04-10-2012)

April showers may bring May flowers, but violence is on the minds of law enforcement during this month. Along with Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, April is home to the anniversaries of some of the worst violence in America, including Virginia Tech, Columbine, and the Oklahoma City bombing, according to Dr. Joel Shults, Chief of Police for Adams State College.

Campus policing was forever changed by Seung-Hui Cho, who left 33 students dead in a shooting rampage. "I was interviewing for this position at Adams State in April of 2007 as the news of the Virginia Tech killings was breaking nationally," Shults recalled. "I came to Adams State at a time when campus safety was already a renewed priority for President Svaldi and the Board of Trustees, but Virginia Tech was a brutal reminder of the urgency of preparedness."

Shults says the keys to dealing with campus violence are preparation and intervention. He points to Adams State's Campus Safety and Health team and the Incident Management Planning team as examples of diverse campus groups working together to prevent campus violence. In the investigation of Cho, it was found that a number of persons knew of his odd behavior, but few of those communicated those concerns with others. ASC's Campus Safety and Health team is comprised of campus officials who interact with students and faculty on a regular basis and screen reports of those whose behaviors have presented concerns. The team develops strategies for contacting and providing services for those individuals.

The Incident Management Planning team works with developing plans and policies to manage emergencies that may range from harsh weather to campus violence. During emergency conditions, such as the 2008 Salmonella outbreak, the team coordinates emergency response under the guidance of the college president. Assistant Vice President Ken Marquez oversees both the Campus Safety and Health team and the Incident Management Planning team. The teams sponsor regular training for staff and faculty on responding to campus emergencies.

"We are very pleased to have excellent working relationships with local agencies," said Shults. "We have written agreements with both the Sheriff's Department and the City of Alamosa Police Department for mutual aid. With those in place, the campus police can routinely operate with full police powers anywhere in the city and county, not just in times of emergency." Shults says that it is a common misconception that his police officers have authority only on the campus.

Chief Shults meets monthly with Alamosa Police Chief Craig Dodd, Alamosa Sheriff Dave Stong, and Colorado State Patrol Captain George Dingfelder. Each of the departments have sent their officers to "active shooter" training to review the most recent professional standards for responding to school violence. The Columbine High School shootings that left 15 dead also happened in April and changed the way police responded to in progress shootings.

Another important resource for campus safety is the Colorado Association of Institutional Law Enforcement Directors (CAILED), where Chief Shults confers with other campus police chiefs. CAILED successfully sponsored legislation professionalizing campus police officers and removing some confidentiality laws that kept campus police from sharing mental health and sexual assault information with campus officials and teams like ASC's Campus Safety and Health team.

"I've got great colleagues across the state, dedicated leaders of local law enforcement, a committed campus administration, and a staff of police officers willing to do whatever it takes to respond to emergencies. We can never be too prepared, but the campus and community can take pride and comfort in what we are doing," Shults said.

ASC Police Department