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Northeastern holds town hall on campus safety, security

03/21/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Scenes from the Town Hall meeting held in the Alumni Lounge at Northeastern on March 21, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Northeastern held a town hall meeting on Monday afternoon that brought together students, faculty, and staff to discuss a range of issues related to campus safety and security.

The meeting was prompted, in part, by confusion about the university’s decision last fall to train an Incident Containment Team designed to respond to a possible active-shooter situation. About 50 people attended the meeting.

James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said Monday’s town hall would be the start of a continued engagement with the university community on issues of safety and security. Northeastern, he said, will be forming a discussion group on this topic.

Later, both Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ralph Martin and Chief of Police Michael Davis noted that NUPD will also be rolling out security awareness trainings and other initiatives designed to inform students, faculty, and staff of what to do during situations like these on campus.

Martin said Northeastern is “moving toward a higher state of preparedness,” and he credited Davis, who joined Northeastern in August 2013, for his leadership in these efforts, particularly through data-driven approaches to ensuring safety and security.

Davis has also arranged, for the first time, joint neighborhood patrols with Boston Police officers and NUPD personnel. In December, news@Northeastern sat down with Chief Davis, who served as an urban police officer for more than two decades and as police chief in the sixth-largest city of Minnesota, for a wide-ranging Q&A that looked at the department’s overall strategy.

Martin made it clear that tactical weapons—a facet of the Incident Containment Team—would only be deployed on campus and never even be seen in the surrounding communities. Martin reiterated that the NUPD first communicated with the Boston Police Department about tactical rifles on Oct. 15, long before the issue became public in December. He also outlined these and other facts in a letter to city councilors on Jan. 26.

Jack McDevitt, a criminologist and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, speaks during the town hall meeting. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Jack McDevitt, a criminologist and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, speaks during the town hall meeting. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The meeting also included presentations by faculty members Jack McDevitt and Wendy Parmet. McDevitt, a criminologist and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, characterized active shooter situations on campus as rare events, but ones that inflict a high degree of harm when they occur. In terms of handling campus safety, McDevitt underscored the importance of having trainings for faculty, students, and staff to better understand how to respond in certain situations. And he said that campus safety involves a strong partnership between the police department and the rest of the university community.

Parmet, Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law and an expert in health policy and law, noted that she was one of about 60 faculty who originally expressed concerns about the tactical rifles policy. “We wanted to foster dialogue and engagement,” she said, adding that since then there have been robust conversations with university leaders around this issue and that she’s encouraged that this dialogue will continue.

In her remarks, third-year student Akiera Gilbert said that students’ reactions were mixed after the NUPD’s tactical weapons capability gained public attention in December. But she credited NUPD for its transparency and willingness to engage in a dialogue on this issue since then. Looking forward, Gilbert, SSH’18, said one thing many students want clarified is “what we define as campus,” noting that Northeastern has an open campus in an urban setting. She added that students would also like to hear more about the university’s short- and long-term plans for its campus safety strategy.

Third-year student Akiera Gilbert, SSH'18, voices some of students' thoughts and concerns regarding the university's policy on tactical rifles. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Third-year student Akiera Gilbert, SSH’18, voices some of students’ thoughts and concerns regarding the university’s policy on tactical rifles. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

During a Q&A, one staff member underscored the importance of having campus safety efforts and notifications include parents and their children at the Russell J. Call Children’s Center, to which Bean assured her that the “administration considers them among the Husky family.”

Another attendee asked how Northeastern’s position on tactical weapons compares to those of other local colleges and universities. Bean said several other area universities have the same weapons available to their officers in the event of active-shooter scenarios, but he also emphasized that unlike some of these institutions, Northeastern police will not store or carry the rifles in NUPD vehicles.

Also during the Q&A, Vice President for Student Affairs Madeleine Estabrook responded to a question about what resources are available to students during stressful times and crises. She said Student Affairs regularly works in tandem with the NUPD, and offers a range of programs and services, including We Care.

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