Protecting against mass shootings at YSU

By Scott Chittock II

There have been over 100 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, according to data from Gun Violence Archive. One of them occurred at a college campus last month.

After the Feb. 13 mass shooting at Michigan State University, universities across the country were reminded gun violence can happen anywhere. Three MSU students were killed in the shooting, five others were injured.

Shawn Varso, chief of police for the Youngstown State University Police Department, said there are policies in place to prevent mass shootings, and to keep the YSU community safe if one does occur.

Varso said YSU Police Department officers are trained and ready to respond to active shooter situations.

“Officers receive training in how to handle those specific incidences,” Varso said. “Our first thing is — whoever gets there first goes in to try to take a handle of the situation.”

Varso explained officers can quickly respond to an incident anywhere on campus.

“Our officers are not that far away from any particular part of campus at one time,” Varso said. “Each officer is assigned to a geographical area of campus, so response time is very quick when it comes to our campus.”

Varso also said the YSU Police Department can call upon law enforcement from across Mahoning County.

“A few years back the university made an investment in our radio system, now every officer that has a handheld radio that they carry with them. They have instantaneous communication with all law enforcement agencies in Mahoning County,” Varso said. “We could rally those resources to wherever we need to.”

Although the YSU Police Department is prepared to respond to an active shooting on campus, students have mixed feelings about safety in such a situation.

Santajah Douglass, a junior psychology major, said she feels safe most of the time, but that improvements can always be made. 

“I feel like [YSU] definitely would feel better with more professional, adult security,” Douglass said.

Santajah Douglass, a junior psychology major. Photos by Scott Chittock II / Jambar Contributor

Ernest Johnson, a freshman undecided major, said he has conflicting feelings about campus safety.

“Not that I know of that many things happen on campus, but knowing the area that we’re in and growing up in Youngstown I know it can be very dangerous overall,” Johnson said.

Ernest Johnson, a freshman undecided major.

Logan Kaminski, a freshman undecided major, said he always feels safe.

“I absolutely feel safe,” Kaminski said. “I love to walk around this campus. I think it’s a gorgeous campus, and there’s not one instance where I’ve felt unsafe.”

Logan Kaminski, a freshman undecided major.

Varso said the university offers active shooter safety training to students, staff and faculty through open sessions, as well as more individualized sessions that he can set up for specific campus groups. 

“As long as I’m open that date, whatever date that they want to use, or whatever group wants to do the training, I can set it up for anyone,” Varso said.

Those interested in mass shooting safety training sessions can contact Varso at [email protected] or at (330) 941-3525.