October 4, 2006

Police Prepared for Violence

Print More

This past Monday, in a one-room school house in Pennsylvania, five girls were killed. Other incidents of school violence have occurred in western Wisconsin, Vermont, North Carolina and Colorado. There have been shootings at Duquesne College in Pittsburgh and Dawson College in Montreal. In the wake of these acts of violence, Cornell administrators feel well-prepared to handle similar incidents.
“We have carefully-devised, well-rehearsed plans affecting the health and safety of the community,” said Chief Curtis Ostrander, director of Cornell University Police Department. “Because we use firearms, we train for incidents and emergencies during the summer, when students aren’t here.”
According to Ostrander, CUPD officers train for 96 hours every year. Campus police do carry guns.
CUPD and Ithaca Police would collaborate in the event of an emergency such as a shooting, according to Ithaca Police Chief Lauren Signer. Other local agencies, such as Cayuga Heights Police and Ithaca College Police would also be called in to help.
“By pooling the resources of all the county agencies, we have a bigger team to deal with a situation,” Signer said.
Ithaca Police Department has a SWAT team, which Signer has the authority to deploy if necessary. SWAT teams train and work together, and the team’s members have specialized skills in chemical agents, sniping, and tactics. They practice drills once a month.
CINT, the Critical Incident Negotiation Team, is another organization that would be utilized in the event of an emergency.Ostrander described CINT as a group effort among several agencies in the county, including Cornell police, Ithaca police, and the Sheriff’s office.
“They’re negotiators in a hostage situation,” Ostrander said. According to Signer, CINT talks people into compliance while the Emergency Operation Center would also be used to deal with an emergency situation.
“The center is set-up for any emergency,” said Allen Bova, director of risk management and insurance. Bova would coordinate the response to an emergency situation by allocating supplies and handling insurance issues.
“9/11 made us look at infrastructure protection,” Ostrander said. Cornell has an “explosive detection” dog, Saber. He’s a black Labrador.
“Our policies are changing all the time, not just with what’s going on in the news,” Ostrander said.
“We expect to probably convene a meeting with campus police to revisit community safety in light of what’s happened,” Kent L. Hubbell ’67, dean of students, said. “From the Duke incidents to these recent shootings, it’s important to think about our campus and the potential we face for it to happen here.”
Hubbell also cited three incidents that caused Cornell administration to think about safety: the stabbing on West campus, a Cornell student’s death at University of Virginia, and the lacrosse team scandal at Duke University.
“There’s a complex of security measures that make people feel safe here — like the blue light system,” Hubbell said. “It’s fundamental that people feel safe and at home at Cornell. Those are fragile feelings, too — it doesn’t take a lot for someone to not feel at home.”
Students are not allowed to possess firearms on campus, while knives up to a certain length are permitted.
“We can’t possibly be ready for every potential threat, but we have tremendous groundwork in place to deal with anything,” Ostrander said.
Signer said that a school shooting can happen anywhere. Many of the school shootings didn’t involve an armed student — someone from outside the school community came onto campus or into the school building.
She added, “Cornell elevates the risk of a critical incident in the Ithaca community because a lot of important stuff happens on campus.”
Bova said that before the recent school shootings, there was a training drill for a shooting situation.
“Cornell … [doesn’t] have gates and walls,” Hubbell said. “People can come onto campus freely, but the University reserves the right to declare someone ‘persona non grata.’”
CUPD can issue a persona non grata, meaning they are prohibited from entering the campus.
The Judicial Administrator would be involved if, in a critical incident like a shooting, the perpetrator was a member of the Cornell community.
“The campus judicial system responds to situations. It can remove a member of the Cornell community from campus through suspension or expulsion, but it doesn’t have the ability to prevent conduct,” said Mary Beth Grant law ’88, the Judicial Administrator, said.
According to Grant, one option available in serious cases is an immediate temporary suspension pending a hearing of the merits.
“It’s one of the most significant actions the judicial system can take and requires review by a hearing board,” she said. “A serious act of violence such as a shooting done by a member of the Cornell community would not only violate the law and the Campus Code of Conduct, it would create a serious threat to Cornell’s community. An immediate response would make sense.”