Campus police train for trouble, hoping they’ll never have to use the tactics

RALEIGH – Eighteen-year-old freshman Steven Jones allegedly shot and killed one student and injured three others in an altercation on Northern Arizona State University campus early Friday morning.  Details on his motives are unclear at this point but officers say Jones did not resist being taken into custody at the scene.  Parents and students are wondering why it took more than an hour for emergency text and email notifications to go out that there was an active shooter on campus.

“We have one student deceased and three other students being treated at the Flagstaff Medical Center,” said Chief G.T. Fowler of the NAU Campus Police. “We put out a NAU alert system sent it out to tell students that they should shelter in place, even though we knew the situation was already under control.”

This comes just a week after a shooter killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. before committing suicide. Police say that the 14 guns they found in his belongings were obtained legally. He passed background checks and sought treatment for mental illness.

DSC_0143Now campus police forces and student health intervention teams across the country are sensing the rising anxiety in their communities about campus shootings and taking proactive steps.  At UNC-system campuses police and staff are working to prevent or contain such a nightmare on their own campuses, by treating students in crisis and taking their emergency response systems high-tech.

A system of Behavioral Assessment Teams that was designed in 2007, after a shooter at Virginia Tech killed 32 people, is going strong at N.C. State University. The BAT teams conduct training exercises and meet regularly to prevent and respond to crisis.  Team members even undergo Active Shooter Intervention (ASI) training that involves “active shooter” drills as part of regular training for officers, students and staff.  They have also posted a video on the student website called “Shots Fired” that advises students how to react in a crisis.

DSC_0144“There is always more that can be done and more is being done,” said Major David Kelly of the NCSU campus police force. Kelly served in Afghanistan and as a detective for 17 years in a local police force. “If a call should come in, we dispatch officers immediately and send out a WolfAlert that sounds a siren and sends text and email messages, sends messages to all campus computers, TVs and billboards, web pages and Facebook pages. WolfAlert lets us notify everyone immediately in an emergency.”

While effort is poured into preparing for a crisis, their real goal is to prevent violence.  A study conducted by the FBI and the Department of Education found the rise in campus violence over the last 20 years can be attributed partly to growing enrollment, increased government reporting requirements and extensive media coverage. But most law enforcement officials say that mental health also plays a large part.

DSC_0130“There are a myriad of reasons these things happen. Depression, mental illness, bad relationships, family dysfunction, lots of reasons. It’s hard to say what the root cause is,” said Kelly. “We treat crisis prevention with a holistic approach. Campus-wide, members of different teams work together. All our officers go through crisis intervention training on how to deal with a predisposed mental illness, a health condition, or a student, faculty or staff member in crisis. We can put anyone on our campus in immediate touch with a crisis counselor 24 hours a day.”

UNC Chapel Hill’s students are pulling help from the private sector, offering free UBER rides to all students in hopes that getting late night revelers home safely will head off problems. The ride fees are paid for by the sororities and fraternities along with the Security Council of UNC.

“We want everyone to be able to utilize it, but we also want people to be responsible.  This money doesn’t come lightly,” Junior Spencer Somers, UNC’s Panhellenic vice president of outreach said to a student news website.

IMG_2561.JPGDrinking on college campuses, while not as publicized, has become deadly too.  Gov. Pat McCrory has launched a multi-pronged effort to tackle teen drinking and mental health intervention as goals of his administration. Earlier this month he launched the N.C. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force. It brings together experts across the judiciary, treatment industry and other areas to recommend policy that addresses the problem of substance abuse in the state.  They are looking particularly at alcohol and drug abuse on college campuses.

“There is harm in this excessive drinking, these kids not finishing college, getting into accidents. Long term, they often become addicted,” McCrory told the task force at their kick-off meeting. “One of our goals is to protect the next generation through intervention, law enforcement and new strategies. The human mind is the greatest asset in this state and we have to protect it.”

DSC_0137Catching signs of anxiety, depression or mental illness is part of NCSU’s strategy to ensure a safe, positive experience for all students. According to the Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, college enrollment is on the rise and students are coming from a wider range of backgrounds. As a result, the campus safety net of counselors is growing to try to prevent violence. More students than ever are seeking or being referred to counseling services each year. For now, campuses across the country are examining their caseloads and reviewing emergency plans in the wake of Friday’s Arizona tragedy.

“I appreciate the efforts of all state and local law enforcement officials, first-responders and school administrators,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “I continue to pray for the recovery of the injured, as well as all those in the NAU community who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy.”

Steven Jones has been charge with first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault following the events at Northern Arizona University Friday morning. He is being held on a $2 million cash bond and is scheduled to appear on court on Wednesday.