The Case Western Reserve University community was taken aback this past weekend when a third-year student was shot outside Phi Delta Theta in an attempted carjacking.
Unfortunately, the campus is not inexperienced with incidents of similar magnitude. We are all too familiar with reports of muggings, attempted robberies and other violent incidents in and around the University Circle area from security alerts and reading the news. Yet, this situation stood out for many, with a number of community members taking it as a sign of escalating campus violence and weaker on-campus safety.
But neither of these conclusions would be completely accurate, or get at the true problems related to security affecting CWRU: an inability to promptly inform its students of safety risks on campus.
Reactionary solutions can be expected when a tragedy such as Saturday’s shooting occurs, and many of those were at the forefront of the discussion of the last few days. Suggestions such as the allowed carry of firearms on campus, known as campus carry, and an increased police presence were both cast out, with debates breaking out in classrooms and on the University’s Facebook page.
Neither of these ideas are feasible.
As far as campus carry goes, President Barbara Snyder gave a short and effective counterpoint in her Facebook broadcast. There is a wealth of research demonstrating that it only leads to an increase in gun violence, and given the frequency of false reports to security on campus, it would probably not be best to give students license to take matters into their own hands.
However, a reliance on a heavier police presence would be no better. The Cleveland area already has a complicated history regarding the shooting of unarmed black men, and increasing campus exposure to this problem would endanger a number of a community members. It would exacerbate any safety concerns persons of color on campus are already feeling and, much like with campus carry, increase the likelihood of tragedy at the hand of misunderstanding.
The most glaring issue with both of these propositions is that they address the wrong takeaway. While there are some measures the university can and should take to improve baseline security on campus, the most necessary improvements pertain to how the university responds to incidents of immediate danger.
There was a period of time after the initial shooting when an active shooter and accomplice were being chased around campus. For a good portion of that time, they were in major residential areas for students. Eventually, police officers and one of the suspects exchanged fire on the edge of campus. While all this was unfolding, only a few students were actively aware of the situation.
We can appreciate the diligence of numerous emergency services in their rapid response to situation. But what is unacceptable is how it took more than 40 minutes for the university to notify students of an active shooter on campus. By the time this information was passed along, the immediate danger had passed, with the injured student’s condition becoming the focus of campus.
When questioned about the gap between incident and alert, university officials stressed the importance of “accuracy” of information, indicating a complete misunderstanding of how you inform students of active shooter situations.
The most critical piece of information in an active shooter situation on campus is that shots have been fired in an area dense with students. The shooter’s approximate age and the conditions of the victim are details for later, and the university did provide them. But there needs to be an immediate alert to students in the area to take caution, shelter or go into lockdown. Assurance of safety should always take precedent to slightly false information.
A member of the editorial board was close to the 2016 knife attack at the Ohio State University. They recounted how mere minutes after the first reports of shots fired, a message was texted to every student and the entire campus was placed on lockdown. The reported shots ended up being fired by a campus police officer, which Ohio State security did not know at the time. However, that did not change the urgency of their alerts and safety response.
Saturday night’s incident may not have been of the same magnitude as that attack, but that does not change the cruciality of response time to informing students of danger on campus. They should not learn of active shooter situations through hearsay and text chains. It’s not unreasonable to consider CWRU lucky that the incident did lead to any more violence, as there was a long period when its students could have wandered straight into a crossfire.
So, as CWRU administrators draw conclusions from the weekend and determine what changes they will make, the alert system should top their priorities. Yes, more Safe Ride drivers and shuttles would also be a welcome improvement. But the 40-minute delay is a glaring issue desperate for repair.
Incidents around campus aren’t going to magically slow down, which is why we need to speed up.