Security concerns return following mass shooting

Written By Andrew Brinker, For The Globe

325 is the number of mass shootings in the United States in 2018 alone as of Dec. 3, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Since Columbine, more the 219,000 students have experienced gun violence at school, according to the Washington Post.

Mass shooting is defined by the FBI as four or more people shot and/or killed in a single event, at the same time and location, not including the shooter.

After the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill that left 11 dead and six others injured, a problem that once seemed distant now felt significantly closer to home.

For students at Point Park, which is located just over five miles from Squirrel Hill, the question has now become, “Could it happen here?”

Campus security has been a source of unrest recently, as student complaints regarding the door security system and inconsistent desk attendants surfaced – both of which could be seen as potential flaws in ensuring student safety.

Point Park Police Chief Jeffrey Besong released the following statement regarding desk attendants: “Point Park now has all of its buildings locked down, which lessened the need for desk attendants at many locations.

“With card access now required, police officers patrolling 24/7, more than 500 security cameras and a student body that consistently reports problems to Public Safety, it’s a pretty secure campus. That said, there is a constant reevaluation of security needs and Point Park is always looking to improve.”

While all buildings on campus are locked, some students have complained that getting past the door system is as simple as trailing behind another student with access to the building.

“The door system is reliant upon the student body to use it effectively,” Matthew Mays, sergeant in Point Park’s campus police force said of the system. “There’s always going to be complaints and things like that, but if the student body is using it effectively [and] staff are using it effectively, it works.”

Sgt. Mays also drew attention to other security mechanisms on campus, noting that Point Park was leading the way in security technology among universities in Pittsburgh.

“Card access is our number one system,” Mays said. “We have over 500 video cameras monitoring the campus. We have officers on patrol, on foot, bicycle and vehicle and an engaged student body and staff members. You know if they see something suspicious, they report it to us.”

In 2017, Point Park saw just three reported and acted upon incidents of burglary on campus, which includes “the unlawful entry of a structure” in order to commit of variety of crimes. The two years prior combined saw only three as well, according to the 2018 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report which is published on the university website. Unfounded reports are removed from those crime statistics.

In regard to guns and gun-related incidents, the security system has been effective. Over the past three years the university has had zero arrests for weapons violations on campus.

Mays additionally discussed potential active shooter situations on campus.

“Our officers are trained to go direct-to-threat,” Mays said. “So, we’re not staging [and] waiting for a swat team. We’re going directly to wherever the call comes in.”

Point Park’s condensed size allows for quick responses to emergency situations from public safety. In total, the campus stretches five blocks from the Monongahela River to Forbes Avenue, all clustered around Wood Street.

“For any emergency our response time is sub-one-minute,” Mays said. “So, we’re confident in our policies and our procedures. We’re confident in our officers.”

While active shooter situations will always remain a possibility, university officials feel they’re doing as much as they can to protect students.

“We try to do our best to make the campus as safe as we can,” Dean of Student Life Michael Gieseke said. “But I’m never going to sit here and say we are guaranteed
100% safe.”

Training and practice drills have been one method Point Park has utilized to make students feel safer and more prepared for an active-shooter situation.

Recently, public safety officers held informational sessions for freshman in University 101 classes where a video on ALICE was shown and student questions were answered.

Outside of the classroom, however, Gieseke said reoccurring training would be difficult to enforce.

“I believe we are making a good-faith effort,” Gieseke said “I think unfortunately most people, but young people in general, have the initial mentality of ‘It can’t happen to me.’ And so, if we were to do it all of the time, I don’t know that the participation level would be at a point that we would get what we want. I think students themselves would have to believe it’s valuable and important for it to be something that they participated in.”

Resident Educators (REs), who occupy each floor of residence buildings at Point Park and advise students, do receive mandatory training at the beginning of the year.

“All REs go through a two-week intense training prior to the school year starting in which they go over many things and this [active shooter situations] is definitely one of those things,” Gieseke said. “Working with our police department and getting that ALICE training and understanding their role. That is a part of their training.”

Kooper Sheeley, a Lawrence Hall RE, said he feels the training at the beginning of year is important for REs to receive so that they can properly protect their residents.

“I feel like the Office of Student Life provided adequate information,” Sheely, a sports arts and entertainment management major said. “I don’t know that I’d call it training, but they provided me with every detail and step-by-step procedure to follow.”

REs are not trained or informed additionally outside of their beginning of the year training session.

“I think refreshing the information would be beneficial, as it’s always important to keep these kinds of training sessions current in your memory,” said Sheeley.

Faculty and staff are introduced to ALICE during their university orientation and can receive training if requested.

With mass shootings in the United States still on the rise, it is likely that campus security will continue to be an area of focus in the coming semesters.

Sgt. Mays feels that Point Park’s campus and students are as well-protected as possible.

“I’m a father of two young boys and if they were of college age, I would feel safe with them coming here.”