Student Safety and Security: On the Campus and Beyond

As seen with the February 2006 sexual assault and murder of 24-year-old John Jay College graduate student Imette St. Guillen, the importance of planning and managing for the safety and security of students goes well beyond the physical boundaries of an academic institution itself.

Administrators must think outside the box in offering a safe and secure educational experience for students.

To make for a safe and secure educational environment both within and outside an institution, administrators must consider the financial burdens often associated with injury or victimization that occur and indirectly impact the insurability of an institution. As seen in the St. Guillen incident, questions will ultimately arise as to the responsibility of the university to protect a student, even when not on campus.

Underwriting an institution to provide liability and business interruption policies is a very complicated ordeal for both the insurer and the insured. As an educational institution, targeting safety on a campus is undoubtedly a method to decrease insurance premiums, while indirectly increasing the applicant pool of the university.


Strategies for Improvement

In order to improve upon an institution’s current safety policies and initiatives, administrators must think in terms of micro-management strategies that demand accountability among personnel and students.

Administrators should begin by conducting an audit of current university policing strategies. Examining patrol routes of security personnel and the methods of managing said patrol protocols should be compared to dangerous or hazardous incidents on campus. After an incident in which a student or a visitor was injured, or was the victim of a safety-related incident, administrators should evaluate the location of safety personnel. The ability of safety and security personnel to respond to hazardous or dangerous incidents, and the outcome of each incident, will undoubtedly be of interest to insurance underwriters. Conducting semi-annual reviews of incidents will ultimately improve upon the ability of safety personnel to provide more efficient services.

One good starting point is utilizing safety personnel to identify deficiencies in the physical environment that may create a hazardous incident. For example, officers should travel routes either by vehicle or by foot and be trained to identify malfunctioning lighting fixtures. Patrol strategies should include checkpoints that require safety personnel to contact a third party to verify their location, as well as the need for attendance to malfunctioning lighting, doors or walkways. Lighting can significantly displace criminal or deviant conduct. Allowing a light to remain dim or out will increase the possibility of unacceptable conduct in that particular area.

An important piece of establishing a procedure for safety personnel and custodial staff is facilitating the maintenance of hazards that arise on campuses. By having these two groups working closely together, this relationship will lead to improved communication and accountability. As officers check in on daily patrols as to the operation of lighting or doors that need fixing, custodial staff will be placed on notice and timely responses can be addressed by administrators. Such accountability will be viewed in a very positive light when an underwriter is evaluating liability on a campus.

Another area that might appear to be well outside the realm of safety is the role of custodial staff in decreasing hazardous incidents on campuses. Custodial staff often blend into the campus fabric. Their presence, though regularly overlooked by students and visitors, is one of the strongest resources for administrators in creating a dynamic safety program.

Establishing a procedure for safety personnel to meet with custodial staff on a monthly basis will prove quite valuable. These individuals will know what students are doing on a day-to-day basis, based on their constant presence in residence halls. They may even know who is abusing substances and who is emotionally overwhelmed. This information can provide safety personnel with an opportunity to intervene should a student or his or her associates exhibit concerning behavior.


Strategic Safety Training

Administrators should also ask themselves what is the probability that students understand the conditions that increase victimization, as well as the means to avoid victimization while attending the institution. Not considering this could prove to be an expensive and unrecoverable mistake.

Implementing safety-training programs for students must be carefully thought through. To put it simply, establishing this type of curriculum requires a balancing act on the part of policymakers at any institution. A safety program that targets the institution’s safety and security inadequacies may turn students away and create unnecessary fear that could negatively impact enrollment. However, offering a program that educates students by teaching them how to identify and exit dangerous situations could be an asset to increasing student enrollment, as well as alumni and parental financial support. Insurers will ultimately view this as a creative way to decrease hazardous incidents on and off campus. Thus, the probability of liability will decrease and could positively impact premiums.

Safety is something that must take shape by both identifying threats and in creatively training students how to deflect the possibility of being a victim. However, this requires the use of outside consultants who can provide guidance to administrators in the development of the program.

When considering a safety program, administrators must ensure that the program instructor is targeting the threats that exist in their particular educational environment. Targeting those variables evaluated by insurance underwriters will ultimately prove to be quite beneficial in the long haul. Specialized safety training, much like the courses offered at all colleges and universities, will ultimately afford students with skills to decrease the probability of victimization and avoid hazardous incidents.


Conclusion

Student safety and security on the campus and beyond speaks not only to the campus itself, but also to student preparation well outside the campus, the community abroad and the educational experience alone. Ultimately, this type of safety strategy, while decreasing the probability of a hazardous incident or victimization, will reinforce an institution’s investment in student success beyond the institution. Such a program could prove to be an excellent marketing tool for future enrollment and generating revenue from alumni, as well as parents of students attending the institution.


David S. Borrelli is a United States probation officer and president of The Borrelli Group (www.theborrelligroup.org), a comprehensive safety and defensive tactics consulting firm.

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