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Despite anniversaries for VT and Columbine shootings this month, video game glorifies school shootings

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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Virginia Tech shootings have recently come back into the headlines with the announcement that the school will be fined $55,000 for failure to notify the campus community in a timely fashion regarding shootings that eventually resulted in the death of 30 students and teachers on April 16, 2007. You can read more about the fine and what it means for institutions of higher learning on Tuesday's Newswire, but as I was searching the Internet for related news, this article popped up.

The article is about the banning of a video game that allows players to emulate school shooting sprees:

The object of School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 is to murder as many defenseless students, teachers and members of staff as possible. To do so, the player uses weapons based on those used by the likes of Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. After completing the spree, the player is encouraged to commit suicide before being captured by law enforcement officials.

Seriously?

With so much of the blame for school shootings already placed on violent video games (although that theory has been largely debunked, but was certainly a huge issue during the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999), why would game developers think this would be acceptable? Well, I guess because violence sells video games. Not being a gamer myself, I can't attest to the draw of such things, but I know there are a lot of people spending a lot of money (and time!) on video games that involve shooting people.

The developer of the game said in the article that he created the game because other school shooting games just weren't that much fun. "Nobody has ever tried create a proper game about a school shooting," he said, adding that he was not particularly moved by the tragedy at Columbine.

I guess it's a good sign that this game wasn't released "due to pressure from critics", but chances are it will be released at a later date. I personally don't think it should be released at all, but it's definitely not a smart marketing strategy to release it in April. After all, it's a tragic month for school shootings.

Texas a step closer to being the second state to allow concealed weapons on campus

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Texas lawmakers are expected this week to send along legislation for a full Senate vote that would permit students to carry concealed handguns on the state's college campuses. According to this Huffington Post article, Texas state senators appeared poised on March 22 to send the bill toward a final vote. I wrote about this bill in late February (see Guns at school: Texas bill would allow concealed weapons on campus) and pointed out that many educators oppose such legislation:

University of Texas President William Powers has opposed concealed handguns on campus, saying the mix of students, guns and campus parties is too volatile.

This bill would make Texas the second state after Utah to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses. The bill would grant private universities discretion as to whether they allow guns on campus, but Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has said he will try to amend the legislation to give public university officials the same choice, according to the article.

Something I hadn't picked up from previous discussions about this legislation was that applicants for a Texas concealed handgun license must be 21 years of age, which means that many students aren't eligible. Personally, I think an age restriction is a good thing considering how many drunken brawls I've witnessed involving college-age folks (who, by the way, aren't legally allowed to be consuming alcohol in the first place).

What do you think? Would college campuses be safer if students were allowed to carry concealed weapons?

The dangers of permitting students to have guns on campus

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I recently blogged about legislation headed to the Oklahoma House that would allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons on university and college campuses. Not long before that, I wrote about similar legislation coming out of Texas.

Apparently, there are more than a dozen states considering legislation that would allow professors and students to bring loaded guns into their classrooms, according to this article from CNN.

The article is written by Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University and the author of several books, including "Security First" and "New Common Ground."

He said there is an inherent problem with this kind of approach to guns:
The drafters of these bills seem to have an image of peaceful students, bent over their books, suddenly attacked by gunslingers who materialize from nowhere. They ignore that students can and do shoot people on campus.

He argues that there aren't (and probably won't ever be) measures to ensure that mentally unstable people don't have access to guns:

And if it were ever created, I expect the National Rifle Association and various state legislatures would strenuously oppose submitting millions of students and professors, or anyone else, to such a test before they could purchase a firearm.

And there's also the issue of allowing students, specifically, to carry weapons. I may be generalizing here, but I'm pretty sure college students tend to drink more than other age groups, and, it's my fair opinion that alcohol and guns just don't mix (although don't get me wrong, I love beer camp, I mean, deer camp just as much as the next New Englander). So, I think he has a good point, the student body is a typically volatile group of people:

Worse, long before anyone storms into a classroom, some students will use their guns -- when their anger boils over, when they have one drink too many or their girlfriend makes out with someone else -- to shoot someone.

His argument is to make guns less accessible, not more. After all, he writes: "Nobody can kill 16 people from a clock tower with a knife."

What do you think? Would allowing students to carry guns make campuses more or less safe? What about campus security? Would it be more difficult to secure a campus knowing students may be carrying weapons?

More budget woes for border security

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02/21/2011

WASHINGTON—The U.S. House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines to slash spending by an estimated $600 million for border security and immigration enforcement for the remainder of this fiscal year, according to ABC News

Dept. of Education finds Virginia Tech broke the law

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Dec. 9, the U.S. Department of Education issued a report stating that Virginia Tech broke the law when it waited two hours to warn the campus that a gunman was on the loose, according to an article by the Associated Press.

The agency rejected the university's defense and confirmed that the school violated the Clery Act, which requires students and employees be notified of on-campus threats.

"Virginia Tech's failure to issue timely warnings about the serious and ongoing threat deprived its students and employees of vital, time-sensitive information and denied them the opportunity to take adequate steps to provide for their own safety," the report stated.

Now it's possible that the university could lose some or all of the $98 million in student financial aid it receives from the federal government, and could be fined up to $55,000 for the violations. It's unknown when any of these sanctions will occur.

A considerable part of the university's stance was around the definition of a "timely" warning. The university argued there was no definition of "timely" until two years after the shooting, when the DOE required schools to immediately notify people on campus upon confirmation of a dangerous situation or an immediate threat, according to the article.

"Today's ruling could add even more confusion as to what constitutes a 'timely warning' at a time when unambiguous guidance is needed," said Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker. "It appears that timely warning is whatever the Department of Education decides after the fact."

Here are some of the other findings from the report:
—The university's e-mail stated only that "a shooting incident occurred" and that the community should be cautious. The report said that could have led recipients to think the shooting was accidental and that it failed to give students and employees the "information they needed for their own protection."

—The warning would have reached more students and employees and "may have saved lives" if it had been sent before the 9:05 a.m. classes began.

—That Tech's warning policy — which is required under the Clery Act — was vague and did not provide the campus with the types of events that would warrant a warning, who would deliver it or how it would be transmitted.

—The university's process for issuing a warning was complicated and not well understood even by senior officials.

Taking out the trash: A creative approach to neighborhood watch

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's been a big push by the Department of Homeland Security to promote the "See Something, Say Something" campaign to encourage the public to be vigilant about suspicious behavior and report concerns to police. It's kinda like a nationwide Neighborhood Watch Program.

Well, I just read this story about a souped-up version of Neighborhood Watch and it's not just the nosy old lady who's keeping an eye out, now it's the garbage man (I'm sorry, waste management professional) who's into your business. But in a good way:

Because of their intimate knowledge of the communities in which they work, going forward Waste Management drivers in Collier County are going to be acting as an additional set of eyes and ears for local law enforcement. It’s all part of a new partnership with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and an ongoing corporate program called Waste Watch.

Frankly, I think this is a brilliant initiative and here's why:

“These drivers, they go through the neighborhoods every day,” said Joe Vidovich, director of corporate security for Waste Management. “They’re familiar with the activity. They know what fits and doesn’t fit. They know what’s out of place. We tell them to stay alert to those things that seem out of place.”

The company has started training about 100 of its drivers in this area of Florida to go through the Waste Watch program to look out for things like graffiti, domestic violence, activity in abandoned homes, vehicles that haven’t moved for days, people peeking in windows, and wandering elderly people.

But apparently this isn't new. According to the article, Waste Management has been rolling out this program for four years now. Chances are the garbage man knows a lot more about you than just what you throw away. Kudos Waste Management.

School security says social networking can invite crime to campus

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

There's probably no sector of the population who embraces social networking more than college students. After all, mega-sites like Facebook were originally created as a network site for Harvard students and then expanded to other colleges. Plus, having the ability to Tweet out your every thought and observation to a drove of "followers" is right in line with the self-indulgent, the-world-revolves-around-me attitude of many college-age folks - followed closely only by high school students, I'd say.

But some school security folks have found that this surge in social networking has some serious security implications. This article found that social networks often provide too much information about a student's whereabouts and personal life.

"It used to be walking down a darkened street at night and being aware of your surroundings," said security expert Norman Bates. "Now that darkened street is in the computer. You might not be aware of who is listening figuratively or literally and gathering your information, stalking you."

(First of all, this guy is simply referred to as a generic security expert? Hmmm, questionable source at best.)

Anyway, the article points out that students often post about events or parties they plan to attend, making it easier for others to track them down.

But it's not just about students telling too many people where they are or where they're going to be, but social networking sites also makes it hard for campus security officials to know who belongs on campus and who doesn't.

"It presents more of a challenge for campus security or police officers to challenge someone who may be on the property who doesn't belong there, who may have ill designs," said Bates.

Do you think social networking poses security threats? Take our poll here to weigh in.

Budget woes mean fewer officers and less training

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10/04/2010

WASHINGTON—Police departments around the country are facing major budget cuts, which often means fewer officers on the street. And, a new report has found that officers who do make it on to the street, may not be as well trained as in previous years.

List of most dangerous colleges and universities causes quite a stir

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When I posted our top story yesterday on the 50 most dangerous schools in the country, I expected it would garner a lot of reads, but I didn't expect it would be off the charts. The Daily Beast, an online magazine, published its second-annual ranking of the most dangerous colleges and universities in the country (it also lists the 50 safest, but, nobody's freaking out about being included on that list. That's marketing gold, baby, put it in the brochure).

Here are the top five most dangerous schools:
1. Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
2. University of Maryland-Baltimore
3. Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
4. Rutgers University-Newark in Newark, N.J.
5. University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn.

(Unfortunately the list of the top 50 doesn't appear to actually be a list. To access all 50, click on the image in the middle of the story and then scroll through, one-by-one, to see all 50 schools. Clumsy, I know. Let me know if you find a better way).

Anyway, the publication used crime data from 2006-2008 from the U.S. Department of Education, the FBI and the Secret Service, in conjunction with the Clery Act. They also weighted crimes by severity: Burglary carried the lowest value, with car theft weighed twice as much, assault or robbery six times, arson 10 times, negligent manslaughter 20 times and murder 40 times. All totals were then divided by the number of enrolled students, so that midsize and large campuses could be accurately compared.

Since the publication of this list, there has been a huge debate about the legitimacy of these findings. First of all, the premise that Tufts University is the most dangerous school in the country is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Tufts obviously disagrees with the findings, too.

Washington University in St. Louis, which holds the 13th spot, isn't happy either:

We believe the analysis and methodology used by the site are flawed and are not a credible analysis of crime patterns around our campuses.

They pointed to a blurb from The Daily Beast about the methodology used:

"To be fair, even the numbers reported to the Department of Education are frequently criticized as imperfect and, indeed, schools are regularly fined for non-compliance. Surely, some schools gaming the system escaped deserved inclusion on this list, replaced by others that were steadfastly honest. Congress this fall is expected to strengthen Clery's safety regulations. And colleges themselves also note that inclusion on our list often reflects more their location than their safety precautions."

Obviously, schools aren't happy with the apparent flaws in crime reporting. There were some recent changes to the Clery Act, which came into effect on July 1, 2010 that were spurred by the shootings at Virginia Tech, but these changes didn't really impact reporting validity. Instead, these changes required official emergency plans be written; schools to conduct at yearly drill based on their emergency plans; changes to policies regarding missing students; and the way schools report hate crimes.

But, based on the outcry from some of these schools, there needs to be more consistency and fairness in the reporting structure (or perhaps greater consequences for cheating). I have calls out to folks at Security on Campus, which is more or less in charge of Clery Act stuff, for some comments about these issues. Stayed tuned.

College officers lose police authority because school has religious ties. Say what?

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'll admit it. This news article has me all confused. As reported by WSOC-TV, a North Carolina court has ruled that the Davidson College police department does not have legal policing powers because of the school's religious ties.

Say what?

“What this case says is that you can't delegate a law enforcement function to a religiously-affiliated school,” Charlotte defense attorney James Wyatt said. According to him, that means no arrests and no search and seizures.

This ruling is based on a case four years ago where a college police officer arrested a women (who was not associated with the school) and charged her with a DWI. The woman actually pleaded guilty, but then appealed, saying the police department did not have authority because the school has religious ties.

I would think this ruling could have HUGE implications for other colleges and universities around the country. Aren't there tons of schools that were originally founded on religious platforms? Does this mean that a police officer working for such a university does not actually have any legal authority? And, as a side note, I'm assuming based on this article that Davidson College's police officers are actual sworn officers who have undergone the proper state training to have arresting powers and are not simply security officers (just wanted to let you know I haven't confirmed that yet). Calls are out. Stay posted on this one.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on this issue, including comments from Davidson College as well as the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, check out SDN's story here.

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