Not so far-fetched

Chardon High School, the setting of last week’s school shooting that claimed the lives of three innocent students, is just one hour and 15 minutes away from Youngstown State University.

This story should hit close to home for all of us.

For a second, take yourself back to your high school days.

Could you imagine trying to learn in a place where three of your classmates were murdered?

Now, remind yourself of this fact: A disgruntled, unstable or tormented individual could walk into any hall at YSU uncontested, and the police would be unable to thwart him before he fired his gun at will.

In fact, as I type this column on the first floor of Smith Hall, I watch student after student enter through the unlocked front door, utterly unaccounted for.

That should be an unsettling thought for those of us living and studying in Youngstown, one of the most dangerous cities in Ohio.

Our campus houses thousands of bright young students each and every day. With a vast tapestry of buildings and social locations, I’m sure the task of keeping every building safe is daunting for our administration.

But as of now, the campus’ educational buildings and parking structures rely mainly on security cameras, which would do little or nothing to actually prevent violent crime.

YSU is not as safe as it could be, and the notion that what happened at Chardon High School could happen here, too, is not that far-fetched.

Jack Fahey, interim vice president for student affairs, disagrees, claiming that the university asks students in a variety of ways whether they feel safe on campus. They “consistently tell us that they feel very safe,” he said.

“I do feel that our video cameras are very helpful in deterring crime and helping us to deal with criminal and disciplinary behavior effectively,” Fahey said.

Fahey also said he believes that the tactic of metal detectors or an officer at each entrance isn’t necessarily tantamount to total security on a college campus.

“If it becomes necessary for us to increase the level of security, we will do so,” Fahey said.

I respect campus officials and YSU Police for standing by the existing safety conditions, but those conditions seem very reactive. How could policies preventing people from being shot be anything but proactive?

And what better time for YSU to tighten security than in the wake of a school shooting just an hour away?

John Beshara, who became chief of the YSU Police Department two weeks ago, said the university made changes to its emergency response formula several years back in response to a string of school shootings — and doesn’t plan to go any further in response to the Chardon shooting.

“We have a plan of response, but obviously we could strive to be better,” he said. “Could something bad occur here? Sure. But it is unrealistic to think that the university could afford to put an officer in every building.”

It is a shame that money ends up overshadowing our safety.

Prior to YSU Police changing emergency response practices, officers were ordered to surround any building that had seen a shooter and wait for the arrival of a SWAT team.

Because there is no active SWAT team in the area, Beshara said it could take as long as one hour for the SWAT team to even arrive.

Now, the policy states that the first officer on the scene goes directly for the shooter.

“When everyone else is running away from the gunfire, that officer is running towards it,” Beshara said. “And we have enough personnel out to respond to any part of the university very quickly.”

It goes without saying that the bravery required for such a dangerous task should be highly commended.

But our university will never be as safe as it should be without some policy in place that can stop violent crime before it happens. Security cameras just aren’t enough, and the cost of elevating our security standards shouldn’t keep us from doing what we need to do.

You can’t put a price on our safety.

Senior Joe Voytek said he sees a need for heightened levels of security, but questions its effectiveness in the end.

“I feel that, yes, there are always things that could be done to improve our safety on campus,” he said. “But at the same time, you can plan and prepare for scenarios, such as what happened in Chardon, but until something like that happens, there is no way to tell whether new precautions would be effective, because you don’t know what kind of firearms that person could have, how many individuals there will be or things like that.”

Freshman Nicole Arquilla said she doesn’t feel safe at night, or when she sees people walking around campus without book bags. She offered a solution similar to how YSU’s dorms keep out the uninvited.

“YSU could have access cards by using student IDs to swipe before they go into buildings,” she said. “By having to swipe their YSU IDs, the people without them are not able to get in and roam the buildings.”

Arquilla said she believes YSU should always keep the possibility of a shooting in mind.

“Just because it just happened close to us, they shouldn’t just think of it then,” she said, “It could happen at any time.”

If it truly is “unrealistic” to expect YSU to finance placing an officer at every entrance, then we simply must accept the fact that while we sit in our classrooms, we need to keep one eye on our books — and the other on our classmates.

1 comments concerned parent Tue Mar 6 2012 15:04 May be a good arguement in favor of concealed carry on campus? I’m sure the VATech shooter might have thought twice if they allowed concealed carry on campus, wondering if someone might be armed that would actually shoot back. . . . .