section four: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CAMPUS SAFETY AND VIOLENCE PREVENTION
In this section we present our recommendations for enhancing campus safety and violence prevention. These recommendations are based upon a comparison of our survey results (discussed in the previous section) with previously established best practices for campus safety and violence prevention (highlighted in Section Two, and are listed out in Appendix B). In this sense, our recommendations are tailored to the schools that we surveyed and the ways in which their campus security and violence prevention efforts can be improved. If all or most of the schools are already implementing a well-established best practice, such as having an Emergency Response Plan (ERP), then this practice is not listed among our recommendations as it would be superfluous.
The recommendations made here are designed as best practices for public colleges and universities in Massachusetts. However, some of the prescriptions may be impractical for smaller schools, especially community colleges. For example, it would be beyond the capacity, if not the need, of small schools to have in-house legal council, sworn campus police officers, or staff psychiatrists. The lack of such resources should not be interpreted as a substandard level of violence preparedness. However, in such instances, schools can and should seek alternative resources in the local area or establish cooperative agreements with nearby institutions for resource sharing.
The recommendations are organized into six parts:
- Early Detection and Prevention
- Physical and Electronic Security
- Campus Police Department
- Mass Notification
- Policies and Procedures
- Emergency Response
Mental Health Services
- Recommendation #1: Campus mental health services should be clearly available and easily accessible to students.
We recommend that all students have easy access to mental health services. This access may be obtained either through on-campus services or through strong institutional relationships with community mental health providers able to assist the campus community. Clearly, off-campus services should be located geographically close to the college. The specific location of these services (on- or off-campus) may be less critical than the ease of access to those services. Promotion of mental health support (e.g., through signage, the school website, and printed documentation) can encourage the students' use of these services.
Mental health services for students should be provided by qualified and trained individuals (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, etc.) who adhere to accreditation-level standards of care. When possible, campus counseling services should be accredited and should meet the staffing ratio recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services (IACS): 1,500 students to each mental health worker. There should be a sufficient number of service providers to ensure short waiting periods and timely response. Notably, one-third of the schools we surveyed have a waiting period of five days or more for non-emergency appointments.
Because of the importance of mental health services, access to treatment should be available on an emergency basis as well as during regular business hours. Each school should have a procedure in place for providing emergency mental health care, and for engaging the ongoing participation of campus mental health services when a student presents with a mental health emergency. In the event of such an emergency, schools should provide mental health services outside of normal business hours (i.e., nights and weekends). Unfortunately, seventy-three percent of the schools we surveyed do not have around-the-clock availability.
- Recommendation #2: Schools should offer specialized mental health services, not just generalized services.
Decades ago, virtually all behavioral difficulties were treated through some form of counseling. Today, best practices dictate different forms of intervention for different types of psychological and behavioral difficulties. For example, depression may be treated differently than an eating disorder. Because students present with a variety of mental health ailments, colleges and universities should offer a reasonably specialized array of mental health services. Despite this, forty-three percent of the schools we surveyed offer only generalized counseling services. Offering specialized services may actually be one method of encouraging help-seeking behaviors. Students seeking help for an identified problem (such as anger management) may be discouraged by a lack of specialized care (or at least appropriate referrals for such).
The range of specialized services offered may reasonably vary depending upon factors such as the size of the college or university, the school's resources, the geographical setting, the psychological services contracted by the campus with outside service providers, etc.
- Recommendation #3: Writings, drawings, and other forms of individual expression reflecting violent fantasy and causing a faculty member to be fearful or concerned about safety, should be evaluated contextually for any potential threat.
Eighty-five percent of the schools surveyed do not submit violent materials for evaluation and have not identified resources with violent writing analysis expertise. While recognizing the creative context of higher education, we recommend that schools evaluate writings, drawings, and other forms of expression reflecting violent fantasy. Schools should establish a formal policy which provides faculty members with a means to submit materials with disturbing violent content to the Threat Assessment Team (see Recommendation #24). The FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, police agencies with similar behavioral analysis resources, and local forensic psychologists and psychiatrists can also be contacted as additional resources.
It is important to emphasize how difficult it is to predict violent behavior, especially in its most extreme form. Countless students write about violent themes, listen to disturbing music, and are isolated or socially awkward. Yet the vast majority of these individuals will never become violent in any way. This “false positive” dilemma dictates constrained response to unconventional behavior. Thus, the Threat Assessment Team must be well-trained in balancing individual expression with campus safety concerns.
- Recommendation #4: Schools should ensure that all exterior doors are properly constructed and lockable.
Outside door construction can afford an attacker the opportunity to chain doors to one another, preventing victims from escaping from the building and hindering police in their attempt to enter the building to confront and stop the attacker. Schools should make sure that all exterior doors to buildings are properly constructed and functional. Over half (58%) of the schools we surveyed have exterior doors that are in need of repair or replacement.
As shown in Figure 8, colleges around the country are using locks and other means for securing dormitories. All dormitories should be equipped with exterior doors that can be closed and locked in order to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering. Nine percent of the surveyed schools have dormitories with exterior doors that cannot be closed and locked.
Hardware on exterior doors (such as push bar lever doors) should be checked to ensure they cannot be chained shut. Sixty-one percent of the schools we surveyed still have lever action doors that can be locked together from the inside with chains.
A few of the existing reports discussed in Section Two recommended installing interior locking devices in all classrooms. There are pros and cons to this strategy. Locking classroom doors from the inside may provide safety for large numbers of people during an active shooter event. However, it may also increase the risk and consequences of other forms of violence, such as sexual assault. Therefore, we only recommend that this be a topic of discussion for individual campuses to consider.
- Recommendation #5: Schools should develop a reasonable plan for electronic access control in the event of an emergency.
Seventy-five percent of schools do not have a campus-wide physical security program that allows for remote locking/unlocking of doors. It is extremely important for schools to establish controlled access to campus buildings. Control of persons not having business in specific buildings should be limited. Access to residence halls should be only possible with swipe cards or other security means. Any plan for electronic access control should recognize the unique challenges of the campus environment.
“Campus Lockdown” is the new catchphrase on campus security, although a largely inappropriate one given its origins in correctional nomenclature. Still, the concept is frequently raised in parental inquiries about safety procedures. Based on the Reader’s Digest survey of 135 colleges and universities throughout the country, a majority of schools report having a full or partial “lockdown” plan in place (see Figure 2 in Section Two). In contrast, only 29 percent of the schools we surveyed reported having a procedure or physical method in place for securing buildings that are vulnerable to attack.
Leaving aside the impossibility of truly locking down a sprawling campus, most college shootings take place in one location—in just one building, if not just one classroom. Notwithstanding the unique lull in between the first and second shootings in the Virginia Tech case, it is also true that campus shooting sprees typically begin and end so quickly that locking students in dorms and classrooms and turning away off-campus students would not necessarily help. Furthermore, there is a significant downside of sealing off access to buildings during an active shooter episode. Although a gunman loose on campus grounds may not be able to enter classrooms and other buildings, so too would potential victims be left stranded without refuge if stalked by the assailant.
- Recommendation #6: Schools should install CCTV cameras throughout their campuses.
Fifty-four percent of the surveyed schools do not employ CCTV cameras on campus. Properly employed cameras, coupled with well formulated policies, can enhance the safety and security of the campus. Cameras alone do not alleviate all problems. Cameras must be monitored to be effective in spotting criminal activity as it is occurring, and in most cases cameras are useful only in a forensic, post-incident manner. Camera images must be recorded to perform these functions with rapid playback and frame capture capabilities.
We recommend that schools have discussions about the role of cameras on campus before installation. The use of CCTV has generated debates on privacy concerns and the impact of cameras on campus climate. While recognizing these concerns, the wide-ranging benefits generally appear to outweigh them.
- Recommendation #7: Schools should equip all classrooms with emergency signaling/notification capabilities.
Seventy-six percent of schools do not have in-class/in-lab emergency signaling capabilities. However, some colleges have landlines installed in every classroom. The ability to reach all areas of the campus, particularly where cell phone coverage is either unavailable or not allowed, is paramount to the ability to notify all students and faculty of situations requiring their response. It is also beneficial for emergency responders to receive real-time information from classrooms in the event of an emergency. Additional or alternative signaling systems in classrooms include panic buttons and digital displays that can transmit messages from a central location to the classrooms.
Active shooter response
- Recommendation #8: Campus police departments should have up-to-date active shooter response plans in place and train their officers in active shooter response tactics.
Though the risk of school shooting is very small, it is also very real and schools must be prepared for the event. Only 64 percent of the schools we surveyed have campus police departments with an active shooter plan in place and only 52 percent train their campus police officers in active shooter response tactics. Sixty-four percent of the schools have never conducted active shooter drills, which contrasts with the majority of schools around the country (see Figure 3 in Section Two).
Of those Massachusetts schools that have conducted such drills, none have involved students. We strongly endorse the practice of excluding students. Nationally, some schools use student volunteers as victims, lying still in pools of fake blood, while others huddle in corners waiting out the realistic drama. Given the incredibly low risk of a mass shooting actually occurring, involving students in drills is not worth the potential emotional trauma they may experience as a result. However, we do recommend that students be briefed on the appropriate actions to take in the event of a shooter on campus. This includes evacuation when possible; finding shelter in place when evacuation is not possible, and attempting to neutralize the shooter if directly confronted by the assailant.
It is also important that these plans be updated to reflect current techniques, tactics, and policies. For example, at one time the universal response tactic for active shooters was for law enforcement officers to surround the perimeter of a building and control access and egress until a trained tactical unit arrived on the scene. Today, the “best practice” response is for the first group of officers to form an impromptu tactical team and aggressively confront and neutralize the attacker. It has been proven through numerous drills and exercises that this type of rapid response is a necessary and prudent response to active shooters on campus.
The active shooter plan should be coordinated with local and state law enforcement agencies that may jointly respond to such incidents. Joint agency drills and exercises should be conducted on a regular basis. The Massachusetts State Police offers an Active Shooter Training Program at no cost to colleges and universities in the state. This includes on-site classroom instruction and hands-on exercises with simunition rounds (“less-than-lethal” training rounds fired from weapons carried by the law enforcement officers). It is highly recommended that all public colleges and universities take advantage of this service.
Staffing, weapons and equipment
- Recommendation #9: Campus safety staffing levels should be adequate for the size and character of the school.
No firm standards have been established for campus safety staffing levels. Still, the national averages shown in Figure 9 do provide some rough guidelines. Other than campus size, a school’s location in terms of local crime levels and the closeness and availability of outside law enforcement resources are critical variables for determining staffing needs. Once a school’s needs have been assessed, staffing options may include campus police officers, proprietary security staff, contract security staff, and/or mutual aid agreements with local law enforcement agencies. In addition, staffing levels and assignments should recognize the relatively higher risk of violence during the late-night hours at residential campuses (see Figure 1 in Section One) as well as coverage for special events such as rallies, concerts, and athletic competitions.
- Recommendation #10: Sworn campus police officers should be armed and trained in the use of personal or specialized firearms.
Of the colleges and universities we surveyed, 80 percent have sworn law enforcement officers. Only one-third of the schools have officers who carry firearms, and 84 percent have officers who carry “less-than-lethal” weapons. Some controversy remains over whether schools should have armed officers on campus. According to the Reader’s Digest survey of colleges and universities throughout the country, about 40 percent of private schools and about 80 percent of public schools employ armed campus police officers (see Figure 10).
- Recommendation #11: Schools should ensure that the campus police department has the equipment necessary to gain forcible entry into locked buildings and classrooms.
Our survey revealed that 80 percent of the schools’ police departments do not have the equipment necessary to forcibly gain entry into locked buildings or classrooms. We recommend that campus police officers have ready access to door-breaching equipment.
Given the enormous consequences of a campus shooting (previously discussed in this report), coupled with the nationally recognized and proven best practice response requiring the first officers on the scene to neutralize the shooter aggressively, it is highly recommend that all police officers on campus be armed and trained in the use of personal and specialized firearms. This includes tactical rifles and shotguns.
The purpose of appropriate weaponry is to minimize injury and loss of life during a catastrophic incident. Because campus shooters often employ sophisticated weapons, campus police officers must have access to appropriate armament.
- Recommendation #12: Schools should have a communications system that is interoperable with outside agencies.
Forty-one percent of the surveyed schools report that their communications equipment is not interoperable with local law enforcement agencies, and two-thirds report that their communications equipment is not interoperable with Federal law enforcement or emergency management agencies. Schools must to be able to communicate with outside agencies in the event of an emergency. Therefore, their communications systems must be interoperable (i.e., compatible) with outside agencies. For instance, the campus police department should be able to communicate with local law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical responders through compatible radio systems.
Policy and practice
- Recommendation #13: Schools should establish a formal policy for use of their mass notification system.
One-third of the schools do not have a formal policy for use of their mass notification system. In such cases, there is no guidance about what kinds of events should initiate the use of the system, who is authorized to launch the system, who should be notified, and what information should be provided.
Multiple means of mass notification are important because no one notification system will reach all community members. Text and phone messaging systems are desirable but not sufficient because these devices are not universal, reliable, or always active. Therefore, schools should have in place additional communication systems, such as intercom, web and desktop messaging, and landlines and/or electronic message boards in classrooms. In addition, colleges should engage in a series of exercises to eliminate unforeseen system glitches.
- Recommendation #14: Schools should have in place a formal policy outlining how and to whom faculty and staff should refer students who appear to have the potential for becoming violent.
One-third of the surveyed schools do not have in place a policy outlining what steps faculty and staff should take if they have concerns about a student or colleague who appears to have the potential for becoming violent. Sixty-four percent do not have a policy regarding evaluations of students and employees who have been identified by faculty/staff as a potential risk.
Processes for referring a student for mental health services should not be onerous or lengthy. Campuses should provide simple and efficient methods for reporting students who may be at risk.
Training and orientation
- Recommendation #15: Faculty and staff should receive training in identifying students at risk.
Seventy percent of the schools do not specifically train faculty and staff on how to recognize risk factors for students and employees who may pose a risk of violence. Such training, importantly, should not imply that personnel outside mental health fields should make psychological judgments. Rather, such training should focus on assisting faculty and staff in identifying the most obvious behavioral indicators and in making appropriate referrals.
- Recommendation #16: Faculty and staff should receive training in managing difficult interactions and situations.
Many individuals are inexperienced in responding to challenging interpersonal situations and would benefit from training on how to diffuse rather than escalate conflict. In addition, faculty should be encouraged to examine closely the proper use and limits of their influence over the livelihood of students and fellow faculty. Through grading authority and other assessments, faculty hold considerable power over the lives and advancement of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as colleagues. Especially if insulated by tenure, they may fail to maintain perspective on the proper limits of this power.
- Recommendation #17: Faculty and staff should be informed about the appropriate protocol in the event of a crisis.
During an emergency, some individuals may render aid but others should be aware that their presence may, in fact, hinder emergency response efforts. Our survey shows that 56 percent of schools do not have a program for informing faculty and staff about appropriate crisis response protocols. We believe that all personnel should understand their particular roles and responsibilities in such situations. However, exactly what these roles and responsibilities should be is openly debatable, depending upon various factors, such as the type of personnel (e.g., administrative versus faculty). Therefore, we believe that the precise nature of this training would be an appropriate topic for a roundtable discussion.
- Recommendation #18: Schools should include public safety as part of the orientation process.
Twenty percent of schools do not include public safety as part of the orientation process for incoming students. Because the actions students take can strongly impact their own safety as well as the safety of others, schools should take advantage of orientation as a prime opportunity to advise students about public safety. For example, students should be informed about the emergency mass notification system and how to report potentially dangerous individuals or situations.
Orientation sessions are also an opportunity to promote a positive social environment, which may, in the long run, be the best defense against campus violence and aggression. When students enter a college environment, they are often receptive to attempts to promote networks and campus groups and they should be encouraged to do so. Transition and orientation programs, which target major challenges on campus with practical information, can serve as important forums to promote nonviolence.
Screening student applicants
- Recommendation #19: Graduate student applicants should be directly queried regarding any unusual academic histories, as well as criminal records and disciplinary actions.
Sixty-four percent of the surveyed schools do not routinely screen student applicants. Such screening is very important, since many indicators of potential violent behavior can be found long before students enter college. This is why the undergraduate application for Massachusetts public colleges includes questions regarding criminal history and past school-based disciplinary actions.
Based upon the disproportionate involvement of graduate students in campus shootings, we recommend that special attention be paid during the graduate admission process. The applications for at least some of the state’s public graduate schools do not include questions about past criminal offenses and academic infractions. We strongly recommend that all graduate admissions applications include such inquiries. In addition, certain red flags, such as having no references from previously attended schools or having attended multiple schools for short periods of time, should be closely examined.
- Recommendation #20: Schools should conduct vulnerability assessments at least once per year.
“Vulnerability” refers to weaknesses or gaps within a system. Identifying and addressing potential campus-wide vulnerabilities is an essential part of safety planning. Effective vulnerability assessments are fluid and should be repeated on a regular basis as threat levels change, operating systems are updated, and new security countermeasures become available. Eighty-eight percent of the surveyed schools have not conducted a vulnerability assessment of their campus. At a minimum, site-specific vulnerabilities should be assessed in the following areas:
MOU’s and contracts
- Recommendation #21: Schools should form mutual aid agreements or have Memoranda of Understanding (MOU’s) with agencies in the community having necessary support resources, such as mental health service providers, emergency medical response services, and law enforcement agencies.
When a major crisis occurs, school emergency support services are usually overwhelmed by demands placed on them, such as large the number of victims requiring immediate assistance. Schools can use local partnerships to supplement their resources if they have a mutual aid agreement with neighboring law enforcement agencies, and may depend on their aid in the event of emergencies.
Of the schools surveyed, 30 percent do not have a mutual aid agreement with neighboring law enforcement agencies and forty-five percent do not have mutual aid with surrounding communities for emergency medical support and joint training.
- Recommendation #22: Schools should have multiple reporting systems that permit campus community members to report suspicious behavior anonymously and conveniently.
An important goal of any violence prevention effort is, and must be, to encourage reporting of troubling behaviors which may increase the risk of violence. This recommendation addresses two obstacles that frequently discourage reporting. First, reporters disclosing troubling behavior by potentially violent individuals are particularly susceptible, with good reason, to fears of retaliation. Second, reporters are often uncertain about their own abilities to judge a person's risk for violence and this uncertainty may lead them to abandon reporting if it is cumbersome or difficult. An anonymous and convenient reporting method addresses both reporter concerns about retaliation and convenience.
Fortunately, many technologies exist that readily permit such reporting methods. Schools may employ telephone hotlines, anonymous mailboxes, e-mail and messaging tips, and online forms. Redundancy is important: again, with the goal being to encourage reporting, reporters should have a variety of methods from which to choose.
Sixty-four percent of the surveyed schools do not have a Tip Hotline that allows for anonymous reporting of suspicious behavior. A review of the schools' websites revealed that most of the colleges and universities in this report either did not have anonymous online reporting forms, had such forms but they requested contact information (i.e., were not anonymous), or the forms were difficult to locate online. Telephone hotline numbers should be reproduced in signage, shown on webpages, and printed in materials such as those distributed at student orientations. Online anonymous reporting forms should be prominent on the school safety website, should clarify upfront that contact information is not required, and should be easily located within three to four clicks from the school’s homepage. Although e-mail is typically not as anonymous, e-mail tip addresses should also be displayed. It is important to note that for this and subsequent generations, the school's website is likely to be the first source of information for a potential reporter.
Update the Emergency Response Plan
- Recommendation #23: Every college and university should review and update its Emergency Response Plan (ERP) on a regular basis.
As discussed in Section Three of this report, having an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) was the number-one top recommended best practice according to previous reports on campus safety and violence prevention. All of the schools we surveyed have an ERP in place. However, we found that 18 percent of the schools do not review their ERP for changes in conditions, personnel, and positions at least once per year. Considering the various changes that campuses undergo from year to year, including changes in student and employee populations, as well as physical changes to the campus such as new buildings and renovations, it is critical that the ERP be reviewed annually, if not more frequently.
Threat Assessment Team
- Recommendation #24: Every school should form, train and maintain a Threat Assessment Team (TAT).
Another national best practice is the establishment of a multidisciplinary team, commonly referred to as a TAT. Sixty-five percent of the schools in our survey of Massachusetts public colleges and universities currently have a TAT in place.
When notified of a threat or potential danger, this team should have the authority and capacity to draw upon university sources as needed to evaluate the potential risk.
The team should be empowered to take actions such as conducting additional investigation, gathering background information, identifying warning signs, establishing a threat potential risk level (low to high), preparing a case to obtain court injunctive relief (for instance, a Temporary Restraining Order) or for hearings (for instance, a mental health commitment hearing), and recommending that those who are at risk for victimization be warned.
The TAT should plan a course of action for dealing with the presenting problem and furnish recommendations to the appropriate college officials.
TATs are distinct from groups maintained by some schools to respond proactively to the needs of students who present a risk of suicide or other life- or health-threatening conditions, such as eating disorders and substance abuse. These self-destructive behaviors are far more prevalent on any college campus than violence. However, given the fact that violence carries a much wider impact on the campus community, there may be the temptation to prioritize the rare but extreme over the more common concerns. Thus, even though the composition and membership of teams focused on these two areas may overlap considerably, it is critical not to blend or confound the two functions.
- Recommendation #25: The TAT should consist of representatives from various departments and agencies, minimally comprised of student services and counseling staff, faculty, police, human resources personnel, and legal counsel.
While most of the surveyed schools’ Threat Assessment Teams include representatives from most of the departments and agencies mentioned above, 88 percent of them do not have legal representation. Attorneys can play an integral role in threat assessment and violence prevention and should be involved early in the process of dealing with more severe and credible threats. These professionals are familiar with privacy and confidentiality issues. They can also facilitate obtaining judicial injunctions and Temporary Restraining Orders, and assist in preparing legal documents to handle potentially dangerous persons or situations. Therefore, attorneys should be either on the TAT or readily available to the TAT as needed.
Trauma Response Team
- Recommendation #26: Each school should have a trained behavioral health Trauma Response Team (TRT), either on campus or through a contract or formal agreement.
Sixty-five percent of the surveyed schools report that they do not have a trained behavioral health TRT. While all schools have generalized counseling services, a TRT is necessary because appropriate response to trauma cannot typically be addressed through these services. Such a team should follow an evidence-based or evidence-informed model of supporting individuals and groups following exposure to traumatic or highly disturbing incidents. Examples of such response models include Psychological First Aid (National Center for PTSD) and Post Traumatic Stress Management (Center for Trauma Psychology).
Of those schools that have assembled a TRT, 29 percent have their team located off-campus, and two-thirds of these off-campus teams have not been oriented to the culture and resources of the university. Whether the TRT is located on- or off-campus, it should be familiar with the school environment and its available resources.
- Recommendation #27: Schools should plan for victim services and aftermath issues.
Colleges and universities need to plan for and provide appropriate support services to victims, their families and all others who have been affected by a crisis situation. Different approaches are needed to handle the immediate and long-term aftermath of a violent event. Schools must have access to adequately staffed and trained emergency medical services, which are essential during crises in which large numbers of casualties occur. Once the threat has been controlled, emergency medical personnel must work together efficiently to render aid to the injured and transport wounded victims to hospitals.
Different kinds of violent events result in different levels of need for victim services. Campuses should have personnel on staff to handle more common forms of violence, including sexual assaults and suicide. However, multi-casualty incidents place extraordinary demands on personnel and resources beyond the ability of most colleges to provide. Schools should assemble a list of outside resources and contacts that can be called upon for such contingencies. Finally, depending upon the nature of the episode, it may be important to manage the appropriate flow of information to students, families, and the media.