Campus security is an increasingly complex issue

Campus security is an increasingly complex issue

Barna, Ed

On the first Friday, the participants will talk about drug identification and effects, then the relationship between self-esteem and community. On Sunday, managing aggressive behavior and dealing with sexual assault are on the agenda. Monday will take up cultural diversity and problems with health and safety; Tuesday will cover liability and preliminary investigations; Wednesday will feature satanic cults and patrol procedures; and Thursday, the last day before a general discussion and “graduation,” will cover constitutional law and writing reports about domestic violence, then culminate in a test.

“When constabulary duty’s to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one,” went the Gilbert and Sullivan song. When campus security officers meet, as at the Northeast Security Officers Training Academy (whose 60-hour summer program for 1995 is given above), it’s impossible to think of college campuses as anything but the real world — with all the woes that implies.

Keeping order on college campuses has been affected by many contemporary trends: stresses on the family; clashes between diverse ethnic groups; technological sophistication. In response, officers who used to be more like night watchmen are now more like regular police departments (at the University of Vermont, they are a regular police department), and have banded together to exchange information in the same way that police forces do.

But the tough cop’s partner has long been the soft cop. Preventing crime being more important that trying to cope with it afterward, campus security increasingly involves alliances with counseling and student life personnel, and means spending time educating students on everything from how to avoid bicycle theft to self-defense in life-threatening situations.

Recently, Vermont Business Magazine spoke about these and other trends with Peter Chenevert, the head of security at Middlebury College, who has been a leader in bringing Vermont campus security abreast of recent developments. He is director of the aforementioned academy (which also draws on the experience of Peter Soons of St Michael’s College and Vermont State Police Sergeant Dutch Lavallee for expertise) and is president of the Vermont Campus and University Security Association.

Also contacted was David Richards, who heads UVM’s force, and his second in command, David Schmoll, for a perspective on the differences between campus security departments and full-fledged police stations, and a view of security in Vermont’s one truly urban area.

CAMPUS INSECURITIES

Two dates stand out in the recent history of campus security: 1983 and 1990.

The former marked the conclusion of the court case Mullins vs. Pine Manor, in which a Massachusetts college was found responsible for the rape of a student in an unsecured building. Another high-profile case, involving the Cleary family and Lehigh University; led to the passage of the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, commonly referred to as the Campus Security Act, which mandates the gathering and release of statistics on a wide variety of offenses. Final regulations related to that act, which tie in with the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, were published in the Federal Register in April 1994.

Chenevert’s arrival at Middlebury in 1988 coincided with the period of increased concern over campus security that brought the incorporation of the Vermont College and University Security Association in 1990. He said people from different campuses began meeting once a month to talk about hot issues and realized everyone had the same type of problems. Similar meetings with people from other states brought the Northeast College and University Security Association into being, which in turn has ties with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

There is a consensus on what constitutes the number one issue on all college campuses, Chenevert said: alcohol. Again and again, alcohol use and misuse tie in with other high-profile campus problems, he said: noisy parties that disturb nearby residences (the town of Middlebury recently enacted a noise ordinance, and the town of Castleton has witnessed a fierce battle of noise from a house where Castleton State College students were renting rooms); room damage and vandalism on campus (Middlebury College held a conference on public art to give input on installing a public sculpture this past year, after previously losing a commissioned work to fire); assaults of various kinds (date rape is currently one of the most-discussed problems on campuses themselves); and fatal incidents of drinking and driving.

Chenevert said that with students free to buy alcohol at age 21, it is nearly impossible to exclude the substance from campuses (a downtown Middlebury business owner once remarked that it would be much simpler to build a pipeline to the campus than deal with so many beer kegs). A few schools try to avoid taking any responsibility by saying they simply don’t allow alcohol, he said, but most are like Middlebury in offering extensive counseling and educational programs.

Statistics show that 75 percent of college students come with their drinking pattern already established, Chenevert said. And unfortunately, that pattern is predominantly one of binge drinking — drinking to get drunk.

Other kinds of substance abuse seem to have leveled off, Chenevert said. At Middlebury, they have a policy of zero tolerance to any drugs on campus, and the Middlebury police are always given the choice of whether or not to participate. In most cases of possession, the overburdened court system turns the matter back over to the school, he said. Generally, there is a good working relationship with the local police, with both forces usually responding to noise situations, he said.

Theft is a problem on many campuses, and Middlebury is no exception, Chenevert said. About 80 percent stems from outside individuals, but another 20 percent is between students, so that the standard advice is to keep dormitory rooms locked as well as the outside doors.

Getting students to pay attention to crime prevention efforts isn’t easy, Chenevert said. To begin with, he said, 18- to 24-year-olds tend to think they’re invulnerable, that “it won’t happen to me.” But “that’s on every college campus,” he said — not to mention in every army.

In addition, the seemingly placid and idyllic Vermont landscape can create illusions of its own. “We have to deal with a false sense of security up here,” Chenevert said. “We’re lucky, our crime statistics are relatively low. But we do have our share of crime and we do have our problems. That’s a hard thing to get across to students.”

Assaults occur — “we usually average about one a year,” Chenevert said. But in part that low rate may depend on the personal safety courses that keep getting bigger each year, and the numbers of students trained in using pepper spray (which “doesn’t do any good if it’s hidden in the bottom of your purse,” Chenevert remarked). Joggers are advised to exercise with a friend, and students help maintain an escort service for anyone who feels the need for it.

On the positive side, no Vermont school has yet reported a danger from nearby gangs, which have come to be a problem for urban school such as Brown, in Providence, RI, and Yale, in New Haven, CT. Nor is Chenevert aware of serious difficulties between racial groups, despite the growing diversity of college student bodies.

“I don’t think we’ve seen an increase in hate crimes because of the diversity of the student population,” Chenevert said. “That’s not to say incidents don’t occur, but it doesn’t seem to be a major problem on Vermont college campuses.”

The need to deal with criminal behavior hasn’t ended the traditional security work of campus security offices. But technology has transformed many of those tasks, Chenevert said.

For instance, making the rounds doesn’t depend on keeping records in a logbook any more. Instead, there is a card system that calls for the guard to punch in at certain times in certain places, verifying that the work has been done, Chenevert said.

Monitoring the electronic monitors is another responsibility, and some of those devices can be extremely sophisticated, Chenevert said. The bookstore, library and art museum all have high-level equipment installed, with the irreplaceable art treasures being exceptionally well protected, and ongoing dormitory renovations involve the installation of newer and better systems of fire protection and other security measures. And there are the Bread Loaf campus in Ripton and the Middlebury Snow Bowl, which need to be linked with the main campus.

The ultimate system, one that Middlebury is seriously considering, would involved beeper-like units that students could carry with them. At the push of a button — a duress button, as it is called — the computerized system would know who it was, where they were, and that help was needed.

In effect, such a system could turn the entire campus into an electronic neighborhood watch, an environment where criminals would hesitate to go. But already there is a strong neighborhood watch element to the security department’s approach, Chenevert said.

“Community policing” is a hot trend in regular departments, Chenevert said, but “college campuses have been doing it for years.” The key is being pro-active rather than reactive. “The service we provide is our bread and butter. That’s how we justify our being,” he said.

They provide reflective tape for joggers, maintain the lost-and-found department, lend engraving equipment so students can mark valuables with their social security numbers, and alert the student body to areas where crimes have occurred. If any student calls up asking for a ride, one is provided, no questions asked — even if the student is clearly drunk.

Gaining the confidence of students pays off in Midd-Watch, a program in which students with radios observe areas in which criminal activity is anticipated, such as the parking lots that outside thieves often target.

“It’s not a matter of hawing a night watchman any more and giving them a watch and a flashlight and saying “Make your rounds,” Chenevert said, summing up the overall situation around the country. “It’s turned into a very sophisticated professional job.”

Middlebury’s departmental manual is two inches thick, containing all sorts of necessary information: how to deal with hazardous materials; how to administer CPR; how to deal with wheelchairs, and on and on.

Training is a sore spot with campus security heads, Chenevert said. Currently, the police of the state police academy in Pittsford is that the state has no responsibility for helping to train security officers, while “we feel they have to have improved credentials as well as police officers,” he said.

A bill to put campus guards on an equal footing, sponsored by Middlebury representative Thomas Alderman, is under consideration by the Legislature, Chenevert said. But action on it will come too late for UVM, he observed — because the guards there are now regular police officers.

AS CHITTENDEN COUNTY GOES

Richards said the training problem at the police academy, which was worse in the past, was one reason why in 1987 he requested an administrative review of the security situation on campus. Advice from faculty, staff and students helped lead to a request to the Legislature in 1989 for police department status.

The bill that was passed, which took effect in July 1991, gave the UVM personnel the same right to learn search and seizure procedures, self-defense, investigative techniques and so on. Helping to open the way, Richards said, was a history of working since 1966 with the Burlington Police Department and Chittenden County Sheriffs Department, both of which from time to time served as an umbrella to give some campus officers full police powers.

Those relationships continue, Richards said. UVM police sometimes serve as backups for Burlington and South Burlington officers, and ties are created through joint work with the Chittenden County Unit for Special Investigations.

“I think we average about 250 assists to other agencies in a year,” Richards said. When there’s a big special event on campus, local departments roll up their sleeves and help; meanwhile, a homicide in Shelburne not long ago brought seven UVM officers down.

“We respond to the State’s Attorney,” Richards said — that is, cases go to that office, and it is decided there whether they will be treated as felonies, or misdemeanors, or handled on campus. “Some institutions make that decision internally. We don’t,” he said.

Was the move to full police department status effective in reducing crime? Richards is convinced that it was. Although several factors may be involved, the fact remains that the number of cases the department brings to court each year has doubled since 1991. Mainly, “it’s the improved training and the improved ability to detect crime,” he said.

Now UVM is capable of helping the rest of the state with training, Richards said. They have a unit that patrols on bicycles, and recently worked with Rutland City on how to do that. UVM has contacted the Martin Luther King Foundation about bringing in a major speaker on diversity issues, which Richards believes will be important for the entire state as demographic trends move toward making the minorities a majority.

“If you look at the raw numbers, (UVM) has the highest proportion of people of color in the state,” Richards said. Whether the racial situation is good depends very much on the individual speaking, he said, with some saying Vermont is very tolerant and others reporting just the opposite.

Schmoll noted that at the time UVM’s security office became a police department, it was the only state university department in the country to have full law enforcement powers. Many campus police departments only have such powers on the campus itself, but Vermont law recognizes only full-time and part-time officers, and UVM’s are full-time, he said.

That makes sense, Schmoll said, because “UVM is a reflection of Chittenden County. What we see is a pretty general cross-section of the things that are happening in the area.” No armed robberies — yet — but “the potential is there” with on-campus automatic teller machines, a travel center and a bank branch, he said.

Meanwhile, UVM Police Services tries to keep services in the picture as well as policing, Schmoll said. It isn’t always easy doing crime prevention, scam alerts, and so on with so many departments and areas of the campus, but, “I think we have managed to keep a pretty good balance,” he said.

When it comes to drugs and alcohol, Schmoll said, “I feel we’re working on it. If any police department tells you more than that, they’re probably too optimistic. Alcohol is a problem for any campus anywhere.”

Since UVM is a major Chittenden County employer, and since the land grant institution has a commitment to remaining open and accessible to the general public, there is no escaping the fact that “you can’t take UVM out of the Champlain Valley,” Schmoll said.

MINIMUM SECURITY INSTITUTIONS

Security matters to Vermont education, not only for the sake of the general welfare, but also for the sake of economic development. As both Middlebury and Burlington campus officials pointed out, Vermont has a comparative advantage when families look at the published crime statistics.

“This is one of the things that brings (students) to UVM,” Schmoll said. “There is a thread to conversations I’ve had: ‘We brought our son or daughter to UVM because the atmosphere at our state university at home is not what we want’.”

“I don’t think people buy into the ‘Vermont is the place where you don’t lock your doors’ any more,” Schmoll said. “But there certainly is a perception that Vermont provides a relatively crime-free atmosphere.”

Ed Barna is a freelance writer from Rutland.

Copyright Lake Iroquois Publishing, Inc. d/b/a Vermont Business Magazine Aug 01, 1995

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved