Safety on Campus

This past month, I had the opportunity to welcome to Middle Georgia State College the Chiefs of Police from institutions across the University System of Georgia. They met on our Macon Campus to discuss USG Emergency Operations Planning.  We were delighted to host the professionals responsible for keeping Georgia’s campuses safe.

As I mentioned to the Chiefs, these are challenging times. With resource constraints in higher education, we live in an era of “do more with less.”  At the same time, technology is constantly evolving. Social media—while powerful and beneficial in some instances—allows rumors and misinformation to spread instantaneously, which may result in panic situations. Rapidly changing technology may also mean that the bad guys sometimes have more advanced tools than the good guys.

Institutions of higher education face a complex regulatory framework—where campus safety is subject to a host of requirements, including not only state laws, but federal laws such as Title IX, Clery, and the Campus SaVE Act.  Later this spring, we will begin offering training to faculty and staff on these regulations, so that we can work together to ensure compliance.

Compliance must be part of our culture because it is the right thing to do. But if we ever need additional incentive, we need only look to the level of public scrutiny into campus safety.

Sexual misconduct on campus is in the headlines on a near daily basis. School shootings—approximately half of which (48%) take place on college campuses—have been on the rise.  And, according to a December 2014 report, Georgia leads the nation in school shootings—12 of the 95 school shootings reported over the past two years have taken place in the Peach State. In addition, people requiring medication for mental illness is at an all-time high. This requires new awareness and training for public safety officials, as well as the front line staff on our campuses.

I shared with the Chiefs a bit about what challenges look like for us here at MGA. Serving nearly 8,000 students across 5 campuses means that our service area spans some 150 miles in Middle Georgia. And, as home to the only public aviation school in the state, we secure an airport in addition to traditional campuses.

In speaking to our own Police Chief, he gave me a list of what keeps him up at night, which includes: person-based crimes, severe weather events, preparing officers to cope with mental illness, active shooter scenarios, communications and emergency notification systems, and ensuring our lock system across buildings on five campuses works efficiently.

As President, I share our Chief’s concerns. The fact is that the situations where Public Safety is on the front lines often lead to a host of high level decisions such as policy changes, personnel changes, the need for reputation management, changes in processes, and shifts in use of resources.

Thankfully, at MGA, we have strengths on which to build.  We enjoy strong relationships with local law enforcement. Our police was recently commended for efforts in helping to solve a local murder. And we offer Georgia’s law enforcement community pathways to learning and basic training on campus, through a partnership with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.

We are blessed at MGA with one of the lowest crime rates in the USG. The latest Public Safety annual report shows no reported hate crimes on any of our campuses, approximately 60 arrests or disciplinary actions per year and only 10 criminal offenses per year, on average.  Moreover we have a Chief who is engaged in the statewide network of higher education law enforcement, serving on the Chancellor’s Safety Committee, the Clery Subcommittee, and the Chief’s Leadership Initiative.

In the coming months, you will hear more about efforts to improve the culture of compliance here at MGA. I have every confidence that our strengths in Public Safety will be a cornerstone of that culture and I thank the officers across our campuses for their hard work.