Campus Security examined by task force
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Campus Security examined by task force

Date: May 3, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -- How to handle safety on a variety of Missouri's campuses was the focus of the first meeting of the governor's Campus Safety Task Force held Thursday. The group had lengthy discussion about what changes were possible and which programs were already in place that could be used by other colleges and universities.

"There's no easy answer, what this task force is going to struggle with is how do we better prepare ourselves and what are the appropriate actions that one can take?" said Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein, who is co-chairman of the task force.

Many issue were raised about topics to cover in the report the governor has asked to be submitted to him by August 15 including how to alert students and staff of crises, how to handle information restricted by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and whether it is possible to create a standardized program for all higher education institutions across the state.

"The biggest concern is we are not one size fits all," Stein said citing differing campus sizes and different types of emergencies.

University of Missouri Police Capitan Jack Watring, a member of the task force said although  MU already has an emergency plan in place, discussing the issue with other universities could garner new ideas.

"We have a pretty good university emergency plan," Watring said. "It could be better but it covers a lot of things, it's generic and could fit anything."

MU Spokesman Christian Basi said the university could learn from smaller schools with different perspectives and the university can also pass along the plan it has in place. 

Stein also said the group plans to have the report done by August 1.

The group was created following the shooting deaths at Virginia Tech although the governor said in a press conference last month the idea for the committee had been floating around for some time.

"Unfortunately many times it takes a tragedy to get things into place," said Mark James, co-chairman of the group and director of the Public Safety Department.

James acknowledged that after a tragedy it is easy to focus on problems relating directly to the situation but said he wants to task force to focus on improving all kinds of safety, not necessarily the issue of a shooting.

He said the task force should also look into weather emergencies such as a tornado and other situations that could arise with the focus being how to communicate well between campus police and state agencies and how best to communicate with students. 

Stein said the group is comprised of twenty-seven members from across Missouri, which was done intentionally to provide broad geographic representation of the state.

"There were a limited number of seats and we had to pick and choose across who we wanted to bring to the table," he said.

Governor's office spokesperson Jessica Robinson said the governor's office made an effort to draw the task force members from all aspects of college life in Missouri including both urban and rural schools, two-year and four-year schools and both public and private universities.

The task force includes law enforcement ranging from campus police to the Missouri Highway Patrol, administration from several state colleges, the state Homeland Security Department Director, one graduate student from the University of Central Missouri, one professor and directors from several state agencies.

Stein said the lack of a student voice was unintentional and the opinions of student interns from both his office and James' office will be utilized.

Robinson said " instead of asking students to commit to an entire summer, the committee will get student input from other places," such as a public forum and surveys.

The task force's next meeting will be May 24 where they will be have a chance to discuss safety with police involved in the Virginia Tech shootings.

The following two meetings will be public forums, one in St. Louis on June 7 and the other in Kansas City on June 11.