UNC system reviews security on campuses

jstancill@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2013 

— The UNC system began a months-long review of security at its 17 campuses Tuesday.

The initiative comes as several North Carolina universities are under the microscope of state and federal investigators.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is looking at UNC-Chapel Hill’s handling and reporting of sexual assaults. Meanwhile, the State Bureau of Investigation is probing Elizabeth City State University, where campus police improperly investigated 125 criminal cases, including 18 sexual-assault reports. More recently, the SBI launched a standard review of the Sept. 23 fatal shooting of an armed man by N.C. Central University police on the Durham campus.

UNC President Tom Ross said that although statistics show that UNC campuses are safer than many communities in North Carolina, it is impossible to insulate campuses from violence in society.

“Concerns about sexual assault and other violent crimes, campus security and crime reporting have become topics of daily conversation throughout higher education,” Ross said in his opening remarks to more than three-dozen campus representatives on the committee. “This is not a UNC phenomenon. It’s happening on college campuses all across America.”

A focus of the effort will be to ensure that campuses operate within new federal guidelines on the handling of sexual misconduct under the Title IX gender equity law. One issue sure to be examined is the impact of a new state law that allows college students to be represented by an attorney during campus disciplinary proceedings.

The panel will also consider the role of alcohol and drug abuse in campus assaults and other crimes. That’s also a focus of Gov. Pat McCrory, who has his own group studying the use of alcohol and drugs on college campuses.

The UNC system initiative will focus on three areas: the university’s response to criminal and sexual harassment offenses; procedures of campus police departments; and reporting of crime. The panel will make recommendations to Ross by April, and he will take potential policy changes to the UNC Board of Governors.

This is not the first time the UNC system has zeroed in on campus safety.

In 2007 after the Virginia Tech massacre, a systemwide task force examined mental health issues, assessment of threatening behavior, housing safety and emergency response plans. Since then, police departments on UNC campuses have regularly staged training drills to simulate shootings and hostage situations.

Ross said those exercises were cited by NCCU officers as a key to their handling of the gunman on campus last month. Though the suspect was killed, no one else was injured during the lockdown and manhunt.

“We just have to be ready in today’s world to respond,” he said, “and it takes training.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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