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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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    Stony Brook Campus Safer Than Some Believe

    February’s gunman scare left many students wondering if attending Stony Brook University jeopardizes their safety.

    Local and national news coverage of the incident left students, parents and members of the community doubtful of the security measures the university takes to protect its students on a day to day basis. “On a scale of one to ten, ten being the safest, I give it a four,” says Joshua Zarabi, a technological systems management major who has attended Stony Brook University for five years.

    Crime statistics and safety precautions taken by Stony Brook University’s Police Department, however, reflect a safer campus than people perceive. “This university is a safe university,” says Assistant Chief of Police Douglas Little.

    The university, Little explained, is like a small city comprised of over 1,100 acres, 180 buildings and 40,000 people. The university provides ride programs, walk services, communications plans and other safety services that regular towns and cities don’t offer. “Anything that can happen in another town can happen here,” says Little.

    The university’s crime statistics reflect a relatively safe university when compared to seven other public campuses in New York of a similar size. Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post Secondary Education shows that between 2004 and 2006, Stony Brook University experienced significantly less burglary offenses than comparable schools.

    In 2004, burglary on campus was one-third of the average for schools with more than 20,000 students in New York state and two-fifths of the average in 2006. Nearly every burglary occurred in residence halls. Statistics for arson, robbery, and illegal weapons possession were equal to or lower than average.

    Forcible sex offenses, however, are more prevalent at Stony Brook. In 2006, there were five such offenses at the university, compared to the group average of three. Four of these offenses occurred in residence halls.

    Chief Little points out that sex offenses are among the most underreported, so the statistics for them may be less accurate than those of other crimes.

    Little said that since the gunman scare, the University Police Department have held workshops and seminars for the police officers on campus, including ones for active shooter training.

    Following a trend amongst other universities like the University of Kentucky, Boston University and the University of Utah, Stony Brook University created a program to detect early warning signs of possible problem students. This proactive measure trains faculty members to identify and report students who are disruptive, obscene or have experienced a noticeable change in behavior or personality. The school will then “have the student reviewed to get them help,” says Little.

    Reports said the Virginia Tech University gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, exhibited warning signs before his shooting rampage that killed 32 people last year. By educating faculty and students and urging them to report suspicious behavior, the university may be able to prevent a tragedy from happening.

    Dr. Jenny Huang, associate dean and director of the Center for Prevention and Outreach, is in charge of this program.

    Recent tragedies such as those at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University raised questions about safety on college campuses across the country. “Statistically, college and university campuses are generally safer than the communities they are in or around,” Bill O’Connell, the current director of Security at Bennington College in Vermont and Campus Security consultant for College Parents of America, said.

    “I also believe the rate of crime on college campuses is not going up, but the serious incidents that do occur are getting lots of publicity, bringing the topic of crime on campus to the public’s attention.”

    Tragedies like the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Virginia Tech University shooting prompted changes in security at Stony Brook within the police department and the Emergency Management Program. The only positive outcome of tragedies like these, Little said, is that “you start to see vulnerabilities in your own neighborhood.”

    Many students received text message alerts and e-mails warning them about the possible threat on campus on February 25. But students that didn’t know where to sign up for the alert system did not receive any information from the university about the incident.

    O’Connell said that students not receiving the alerts “presents a good opportunity for the school to re-educate the community about this system and stress how important it is for everyone to sign up.” Almost a month after students complained of not receiving the messages, the sign-up information is still buried under several links from the university home page.

    J. Patrick Murphy, president of LPT Security Consulting, testifies as an expert witness for cases involving inadequate security and has experience with college campuses. “Notification of all crimes should be made a priority,” says Murphy. “The school website should be updated with specific information.”

    Both Murphy and O’Connell believe that one of the most important aspects in ensuring campus safety is for students to report any suspicious people. Murphy points out that security standards for universities do not exist, just recommendations.

    Many students and their parents were displeased with President Shirley Strum Kenny’s decision not to lock down the campus after reports of the gunman surfaced. O’Connell believes President Kenny’s actions were appropriate for the situation.

    “Locking down a campus is almost always impossible to do,” said O’Connell. “I believe the public thinks it is easily accomplished, but in actuality, with our campuses open and often times so large, there is no practical way to do this.”

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