Point to the Camera

Not long ago, on an urban university campus, a female student walking alone in the evening noticed a man shadowing her. Quickening her pace, she walked to one of the emergency call stations dotting the campus. The man kept coming.

At the station, the student picked up the phone and asked a campus police officer for help. The officer told the woman to turn around, look the man in the eye and point to the camera mounted on the call station.

As she pointed, the officer used his remote control console to pan the camera until it framed the man. Then the officer pressed the zoom control, and the lens jutted out toward the man with an electronic buzz. The would-be attacker got the point and took off.

The story illustrates how a campus police and security organization can prevent crime: The police on this campus understood the threat posed by muggers, robbers, and sexual predators and erected emergency call stations. They worked with students and trained them to use the stations. They hired savvy, quick-thinking officers to take the calls and trained them to use the camera technology.

Those are the basics: assess threats, create preventive strategies, employ qualified people, support them with technology, and train everyone from the police and security staff to students, faculty, staff, and even parents. Everyone works together.

Prevention Starts With a Risk Assessment

“A risk assessment produces a comprehensive list of risks and vulnerabilities,” says Steven J. Healy, managing partner with Margolis Healy & Associates, LLC, a higher education safety and security consultant based in Richmond, VT, and Princeton, NJ. “The list may include high-risk drinking, sex violence, robbery, terrorism, other crimes, and natural disasters.”

Start with the most common campus crimes, usually burglary, illegal drug use, motor vehicle theft, sex offenses, and underage drinking. Crime reports required by the Clery Act can give you an idea of the crimes most prevalent on your campus. Remember, though, the Clery Act does not require reporting of most kinds of thefts.

You also need to consider what is happening elsewhere. “Just because there has never been a terrorist event or a shooting on your campus, you cannot ignore the possibility,” says Stevan P. Layne, CPP, CIPM, a principal with Nokomis, FL-based Layne Consultants International, which serves a number of college and university clients.

Develop Prevention Strategies

“Once you have a list of risks, prioritize it and develop strategies to deal with each,” advises Healy. “Create a continuum. How can you prevent this crime? If prevention fails, how will you mitigate the problem? How will you respond and neutralize it? Finally, how will you recover and return to normal?”

Prevention comes first. Is a residence hall suffering too many thefts? Effective prevention might include better lighting outside and in common areas inside, access control and video technology, and more frequent police or security patrols. If the budget won’t support all that, improve the lighting and the locks, while patrolling more often. If that doesn’t work, you will at least have a case to take to the administration for funding access control and video surveillance cameras.

Strategies for tamping down thefts at a residence hall don’t require a rocket scientist. But there are more difficult prevention tasks. How can you prevent an emotionally disturbed member of the campus community from going on a shooting spree? You have no way of knowing where it will happen or when. What can you do?

“To develop a preventive strategy for an active shooter, I would look at the current literature about prevention,” says Healy, “and develop a program that equips the community to identify and report people that fit the emotional profile. If you can intervene and manage the circumstances that might cause this person to act out, you may be able to prevent a shooting.”


Prevention — as well as mitigation, response, and recovery — requires sufficient staffing.

“There is no one accepted formula for determining how much staffing you need,” says Paul V. Verrecchia, chief of police and director of public safety at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, and current president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). “Some use X officers per thousand people on campus. Others prefer X officers per square foot.” Another approach involves a workload assessment — what do you expect each officer to do during his or her eight-hour shift?

Verrecchia considers workloads, looking at calls for service, response times, report writing, training and professional development, going to court, sick leave, vacations, lunch, and administrative chores like fueling and inspecting a vehicle.

You can find a lot of workload information from your computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, continues Verrecchia. He tracks a response time for each kind of call that comes in. What time was the officer dispatched? When did the officer arrive? How long was the officer on the scene? When did the officer return? How much time did it take to write the report?

“This tells you whether you have enough officers,” he says. “Once you have a baseline, then it makes sense that a growth in the campus population may require more officers. Over the past seven years, for instance, we’ve built two new residence halls on campus, and the percentage of students living on campus grew from 28 percent to 36 percent. That has led us to add two new security officers and one new campus police officer.”

Technology as a Force Multiplier

Of course, an institution’s budgetary limitations can limit staffing. Used wisely, technology can redress the balance.

“Technology is a force multiplier,” says Healy. “But not a standalone solution. For instance, using cameras seems reasonable, but you can’t put cameras everywhere. You have to fit cameras into the culture.

“You must also manage expectations. If you install 200 cameras on a campus, what are you telling the community? Does the community think you are actively monitoring? If so, fine, but if you are interested in post-incident investigations, you have to make that clear to the community.”

Security technology has taken great strides in recent years. Megapixel surveillance cameras can produce more detailed images. Access control technology enables one person at a computer to lock and unlock doors across a campus. Mass notification systems can help to inform the community about emergencies.

“In the end, the strategic use of technology can free officers to work in more preventative ways,” Verrecchia says.

Community Policing

“Our theory is that campus public safety should work with other campus administrations to focus on prevention programming geared to the most critical issues facing the campus,” says Healy. “Then support the programming with community policing.”

Community policing is essential, continues Healy, who recommends collaborating with representatives from across the community — students, staff, and faculty. Meet regularly, he says, to discuss problems, perceptions, and strategies.

Training and awareness are part of community policing. “Campus police officers are trained in the culture of higher ed — to deal with students, faculty, and other staff,” Verrecchia says.

Important, too, is training in policing and security procedures and the use of technology.

At the same time, the community requires training and awareness programs. “Twenty-two-year-olds are trusting,” Verrecchia says. “They don’t think bad things will happen to them. We have awareness programs designed to help them take responsibility for their personal safety — lock your doors, don’t walk alone at night, and so on.

“The point is that the police can’t do it alone. The community must be involved. Preventing crime requires a holistic, collaborative effort on the part of the entire community.”


Share this Page

Subscribe to CP&M E-News

College Planning & Management's free email newsletter keeping you up-to-date and informed.

I agree to this sites Privacy Policy.