Newswise — Students on college campuses should not hesitate to call the police if they suspect another student or faculty member could commit a violent act, says a University of Mississippi criminal justice professor who has written extensively on the subject of school safety.
In light of recent shootings at campuses in Illinois and Arkansas, Chester Quarles said students have a collective responsibility to act and diffuse potentially violent situations.
"A lot of times people hear comments like, 'I'm going to kill that son of a gun,' or 'I'm going to lose my scholarship because that stupid professor is going to flunk me,'" Quarles said. "It's easy to go into denial when you hear those comments and think that person would never actually act on their words. But that is exactly when we need to give a lot of credit to the threat and to try to diffuse the situation."
UM administrators and law enforcement officials have developed a broad alert system that will notify students, faculty and staff of dangerous situations on campus, Quarles said. As far as policy, the university is doing all it can do, he said. The rest of the responsibility falls to the people who are out in the classrooms and on campus each day.
More than 8,800 UM students and faculty have signed up for a system that will send a text message in the event of an emergency, said David Drewrey, director of the Telecommunications Center. The text message system, which was chosen after testing the capabilities of several vendors, is up and running and administrators used it for the first time several weeks ago when tornadoes came through Lafayette County.
"It was a good first test of the system, and we were able to work out a few things," Drewrey said. "It assured us that we could reach people in the event of an on-campus emergency."
Drewrey added he would like to see more people sign up for the system but is encouraged by the enrollment so far.
Quarles encourages students, faculty and staff to report anyone carrying a gun on campus to the University Police Department because the officers are trained to appropriately investigate and deal with potentially violent situations.
"The investigation itself demonstrates that we are serious about safety and are going to do all we can to protect the university," he said.
He added that the university is uniquely equipped to deal with these situations because of the numerous counseling and help organizations on campus.
"I think we are doing all we can," he said. "We just need to continue to take threats seriously and act responsibly."
Quarles has studied and written extensively on school violence, including the books "Staying Safe at School: What You Need to Know" (Corwin Press) for teachers and administrators, "Staying Safe at School" (Broadman and Holman) for students, and "School Violence: A Survival Guide for School Staff With Emphasis on Robbery, Rape, and Hostage Taking" for the National Education Association.
Quarles has worked with Crisis Consulting International and is an internationally recognized authority on the avoidance of terrorism, kidnapping and guerrilla assault.
Other UM faculty experts available to comment on school shootings and safety issues include:- David McElreath, chair of the Department of Legal Studies, has extensive training in national and homeland security issues, as well as criminal justice issues. He holds a bachelor of public administration and Master of Criminal Justice from Ole Miss. He also holds a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College and a doctor of philosophy from the University of Southern Mississippi. He had a distinguished military career as a U.S. Marine with service in Bosnia and Kosovo. He retired from the Marines and is a colonel with the Mississippi State Guard. - Susan E. Eftink, assistant professor of social work, is an expert on death, loss and grief, and she oversees support groups on these subjects. She was an employee of the UM Counseling Center in 1987 when five members of UM's Chi Omega sorority were killed during a fundraiser, and she is a certified phantologist, a specialist who deals with issues related to death and grief.
- Marc Harrold, counsel for national programs at UM's National Center for Justice and the Rule of Law and a visiting professor of law, is a former police officer and narcotics task force officer with the city of Atlanta Police Department. He serves as a sworn part-time police officer with the Oxford Police Department and continues to train law enforcement officers, agents and deputies throughout north Mississippi.