After public hearings in Missouri’s two biggest cities, Gov. Matt Blunt’s Campus Safety Task Force is looking for input from the rest of the state.
The task force, which heard public testimony in St. Louis on June 7 and Kansas City on June 11, is accepting suggestions from the public via e-mail through Friday.
The task force was formed to examine ways to improve college campus safety after the Virginia Tech tragedy. Since then, members have narrowed their focus to four main issues: whether to arm campus security officers; what the protocol should be for a campus lockdown; whether to require faculty and students to wear identification; and how to improve the response of mental health professionals in an emergency, said Terri Durdaller, director of communications for public safety.
The task force is scheduled to present its report to the governor by Aug. 15.
“The task force had a rough idea of issues they wanted to tackle,” Durdaller said. “But we really want to incorporate public views to shape the recommendation because ultimately that’s who this will affect.”
Robb Wylie, a fire chief in the St. Louis area and a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, spoke at the St. Louis hearing. Wylie said he encouraged the committee to take an “all-hazards approach.”
“Certainly Virginia Tech opened our eyes that we were unprepared at the college level,” Wylie said. “But I didn’t want them to just focus on the possibility of a shooter. That’s a danger, but it’s fairly unlikely. I wanted to make sure they included things like natural disasters.”
Chuck Witt, assistant chief of the Columbia Fire Department and a member of the task force, attended the St. Louis hearing and said he was encouraged by the turnout.
“More people showed up than I would have guessed,” Witt said, “and there was a lot of good public comment and discussion.”
Durdaller said 50 to 75 people attended each hearing. The committee heard from students, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and others.
“The general perspective from students was that they were concerned about conduct violations,” Durdaller said. “They said if a student received a violation at one school, it should transfer with them if they transferred schools. They should be flagged as someone with potential problems.”
Durdaller also said that mental health professionals felt mental health resources should be available 24 hours a day and that law enforcement officers advocated that each campus have a unique emergency plan according to its needs.
Wylie also advised the task force to ask each campus to have a detailed response plan in place and to make the public aware of how it works and who is involved.
“The planning process is very important,” Wylie said. “Anyone can go to the Internet and just download a plan. That’s pretty useless. You need to be able to come together with people you know and know who’s doing what.”
The task force will have two more meetings before filing its report with Blunt’s office. The next meeting is July 12 in Jefferson City. Suggestions for improving campus safety can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org through Friday.