State campus safety report released

By Alice Haymond

After examining campus safety at postsecondary institutions across Kentucky since January, a state task force released on Friday its recommendations, many of which are already in place or under way at UK.

In the 24-page report, the Governor’s Task Force on Campus Safety made general observations about Kentucky colleges, rather than evaluating security measures at each institution. Gail Minger, the task force’s chairwoman, presented the findings Friday.

Maj. Joe Monroe, the interim UK police chief, said he read over the report after the UK football game Saturday night, highlighting the recommendations and noting that UK is already on the road to following them.

The task force evaluates public and private colleges’ progress toward guidelines set in the Michael Minger Act of 2000, which requires institutions to report safety violations and hazards.

The report noted that the highest concern at postsecondary institutions was fire safety, where the State Fire Marshal deemed some conditions unsafe and found some that even violated Kentucky’s building code.

UK has an official, Fire Marshal Garry Beach, to enforce fire-safety regulations on campus. Beach could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Another recommendation included improving campus communication and alert systems, specifically by implementing a text-messaging system. UK purchased an emergency text-messaging system in August but has not yet implemented it. Another notification system, UK Mobility, was created internally and offers a text-message option, but administrators have not yet collected student cell-phone numbers to make that possible.

The task force also targeted drug- and alcohol-related issues on campuses, recommending that schools take a more active role in reducing and preventing substance abuse.

“It is not enough for a college to distribute its alcohol and other drug policies in the back of a handbook, host a one-day alcohol awareness program, or offer counseling programs for those who seek them, and expect the problem to go away,” the report said.

Suggested methods included scheduling classes on Fridays to discourage Thursday-night drinking, keeping libraries and recreational facilities open later, notifying parents when students repeatedly violate drug and alcohol policies, and offering mandatory instruction to raise awareness.

The report urged schools to heighten their focus on mental health, encouraging administrators and faculty members to promote referral and treatment of mental disorders as a preventative measure against violence and criminal behavior.

To maintain secure campus law enforcement, the report encouraged institutions to improve relations with local law enforcement agencies through signed working agreements and suggested recruitment strategies to replenish low police numbers.

UK has 513 students per sworn police officer, according to the report. The public college with the lowest ratio in the state is Kentucky State University, with 250 officers per student; Northern Kentucky University has the highest ratio, with 770.

The report urged the General Assembly to put the “highest priority” for funding on campus safety measures. It also suggested that state and local agencies support a statewide Center for Campus Safety, an organization to facilitate security-related communication and training among schools.

Recommendations that UK has already implemented include extra lighting throughout campus, a protocol for response during emergencies, a relationship with the local law enforcement agency, and security alarms and monitors at residence halls.

The report’s findings were very similar to those of a school and campus safety report released Thursday by the National Association of Attorneys General. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the task force’s report contributed to the dialogue about campus safety, something he thought UK was doing a good job at targeting.

“It’s good that a lot of things mentioned in that report and the (attorneys general’s) report are things the university is doing or in the process of implementing,” Blanton said.