Virginia Tech shooting prompts schools to scrutinize security

The mass shooting attack at Virginia Tech on Monday is the latest reminder that college campuses might not be the safe educational cocoon they are presented as being, a expert on terrorism and university officials said.While the reality that at least 32 people were slain on a college campus starts to set in on institutions nationwide, college administrators have begun to examine the overall safety of the university.

In the wake of this national tragedy, students need to be aware that there is no way to keep potential shooters off an open campus such as TCU, said Joseph Ruffini, the president and founder of JPR & Associates, LLC, a firm specializing in security and anti-terrorism training. Ruffini, who is the author of “When Terror Comes to Main Street: A Citizens’ Guide to Terrorism Awareness, Preparedness, and Prevention,” said students need to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of themselves and those around them.

“It’s a dangerous world that we live in,” Ruffini said. “We can’t assume anymore that college campuses are going to be nice, quiet, safe, academic environments.”

Although it has yet to be confirmed, Ruffini said he was unsure as to whether Virginia Tech police followed protocol of the Active Shooter Doctrine, an act that was implemented after the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School. The doctrine was developed so that the first responding police official on site would enter the school and attempt to take out the shooter — a more hands-on approach compared to the former protocol that had officials form a perimeter around the campus until the SWAT unit arrived.

He said it is important for students to be aware of anything considered to be suspicious behavior.

“Police would much rather get a call, investigate and have it be nothing than have what happened with Virginia Tech police today,” Ruffini said.

It is only speculation at this point as to the shooter’s mental mindset, but criminal justice professor Chip Burns said the diverse and stressful environment caused by college campuses, and the intense competition present at campuses nationwide could have attributed to the shooter’s decision-making process, barring that the shooter was indeed a student. He said the question of whether the attack was a random, heinous act is valid but other social or personal factors are probably taken into consideration.

“Maybe it was random, but there had to be some factors that prompted him to do it,” Burns said.

Cultural conflict and emotional or relationship problems force shooters, usually men, to feel a sense of entitlement and the need for control, said Jeff Ferrell, a criminal justice professor. Ferrell said he hopes the tragedy will force the American public to review and reflect on a present-day that glorifies and celebrates the reliability people have on guns.

“We tend to valorize and romanticize violence, and I think this is a dark mirror image of that,” Ferrell said.

Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said that despite TCU Police currently having a higher ratio of police per TCU student compared to the ratio of police per citizen, it still doesn’t matter in the bigger picture of things. He said administrators need to be vigilant, especially in a college environment.

“Students generally think they are in a safer place and generally, they are,” Mills said. “They are certainly not immune from people doing bizarre things.