NAICU Washington Update

Panelists Suggest Threat Assessment for Campus Safety

May 23, 2007

Just a few weeks after the Virginia Tech massacre, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on best practices in campus security. One of the hearing's most important messages was about the value of using threat assessment models on campuses.

As the hearing began on May 15, both Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) made it clear that the committee would not propose any new federal policy or legislation on campus security until it heard from the independent commission appointed by Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine (D) to examine the Virginia Tech shootings. At the same time, they made it clear that they were interested in specific aspects of campus safety, such as emergency communications technology, the availability of comprehensive mental health services, and that adequate prevention services are in place.

The committee heard from four campus security experts: Steven J. Healy, director of public safety at Princeton University and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA); Louanne Kennedy, former provost at California State University at Northridge; Dewey G. Cornell, who directs the Virginia Youth Violence Project in the University of Virginia school of education; and Jan Walbert, vice president for student affairs at Arcadia University and president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).

All four spoke to the importance of threat assessment models on college campuses, which Dewey Cornell said allows campus security "to identify troubled students long before they are armed" and intervene before they resort to violence. Discussing the difference between profiling students and threat management, both Cornell and Healy emphasized that the FBI and Secret Service regard profiling inappropriate for a school setting. Both said the behavioral threat assessment approach provides colleges with a system for students to talk with someone anonymously about a threat, follow-up to ensure such reports don't fall through the cracks, and provisions for removing a student when necessary, while minimizing the threat of a lawsuit.

Healy's also recommended improving mass emergency communications, raising campus security professionalism, and improving federal campus crime reporting. He said that while there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, IACLEA plans to provide guidelines as part of its accreditation process. The association also recommends the creation of a National Center for Campus Public Safety. When asked by Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) if IACLEA certification should be required to receive federal funds, Healy said that since the association is "in the infant stages of accreditation," he would not recommend that now "but maybe in 20 years." Andrews also asked if student privacy laws hindered campus investigations. Healy responded that there are exceptions in FERPA for law enforcement and, in his experience, FERPA had never been an impediment in a campus safety situation.

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) asked about the implications of state laws governing whether or not institutions can have sworn police officers on campus. In Michigan, he noted, public colleges have sworn police officers, but private colleges are not allowed to have them. Healy said that, across the country, state laws are split about half and half between sworn officers and public safety officers on public and private campuses.

Rep. McKeon asked the panelists whether federal policies were effective at both K-12 schools and colleges. Healy responded that colleges don't have the same control over students as K-12 schools do, and suggested that it could be helpful - especially in shootings - for colleges to adapt the K-12 model. Both Healy and Cornell encouraged Congress to provide funding for the FBI and Secret Service to work with colleges in improving threat assessment models.

Very little was said about the specifics of the Virginia Tech tragedy. The few times it was mentioned, it was in the context of a mental health problem, not a school violence problem. UVa's Cornell explained that violence has actually decreased overall at K-12 schools and college campuses, and that bullying and fighting are more prevalent than homicides. All agreed that more attention should be paid to the availability of student mental health services and to the coverage of such services by medical insurance.


MORE News from NAICU