Bloodshed on campus may seem like a very real possibility these days. But the University Police Department wants Fresno State students to know they are in good hands following the Feb. 14 shooting at Northern Illinois University (NIU) that killed six students, including the gunman.
Campus police chief David Huerta held a press conference the day after the shooting to discuss campus safety protocols.
â€œI am confident that if a call came into our communications center that we have a gunman on our campus that we are going to have a lot of officers rolling right now,â€ Huerta said. â€œThey know what to do when they get there and they know how to handle themselves.â€
There are about 20 officers on the campus police force, with two to three officers on duty for each shift. All are trained in active shooting protocols along with the Fresno and Clovis police departments. The last training took place in the area of the dorms in January while students were on winter break.
Huerta also makes regular contact with a network of campus police chiefs across the nation to discuss ideas on safety protocols. The campus police chief from Virginia Tech, where 33 students died in a shooting last April, has visited Huerta and his officers to discuss the shooting and what Fresno State can do to prevent a similar incident.
Huerta said that the first priority, should a shooting be reported, would be to contact those in the immediate vicinity of the incident, including building safety coordinators.
Officers would respond to the scene, ready to do whatever it takes to deal with the situation.
â€œWeâ€™re telling our officers you have no choice,â€ Huerta said â€œYou have no choice, you must go, you must contact, you must deal with the individual and stop that person.â€
Officers would also consider whether the students at multiple points may be in danger, like in the Virginia Tech shooting. Contact would be made with students and staff throughout the rest of campus.
In August 2006, when a bank robbery chase sent shooters near campus, e-mails were sent to students informing them of the news. Campus police is also looking into text messaging as a quicker way to keep students informed, but Huerta pointed out that cell phone service crashed after the shooting at NIU.
Pang Yang, a senior graphic design major, said she had concerns about using cell phone technology to inform students.
â€œThat would be faster, better than e-mail, but you have to consider people without a cell phone,â€ Yang said. â€œI didnâ€™t used to have one.â€
Ultimately, Huerta hopes to prevent an incident from occurring on campus. He said that students should assume some of the responsibility in being aware of suspicious individuals.
â€œThey need to tell us when someone is acting out or is acting oddly,â€ he said. â€œWe just need to all be aware of the fact that this is our home, this is our community, and we all have a bit of responsibility to make it safe.â€
Freshman Cristina Beltran thinks that students should even be aware of the possibility of a shooter being someone they know.
â€œMaybe if it was your close friend or roommate, then you should tell them to get help,â€ Beltran said. â€œI think itâ€™s your responsibility.â€
Huerta said that students need to know Fresno State is a safe campus, but he also knows that there is no guarantee an incident will not hit close to home because no campus can be one hundred percent protected.
â€œWeâ€™re seeing it happen regularly and itâ€™s tragic,â€ Huerta said. â€œHow do you prevent it? I donâ€™t know that you can prevent it. What you can have is a strong response â€¦ Educational institutions should never be gated, fortress-like.â€
Fresno State President John D. Welty, who grew up in Illinois and had two sisters graduate from NIU, echoed Huerta’s sentiments.
â€œThe sad reality is that no university can provide a hundred percent guarantee of safety and security,â€ Welty said in a statement released the day after the shooting.
â€œWhat we can do â€“ and have done even before the tragedies at Virginia Tech last spring and, now, at NIU â€“ is constantly improve our ability to prevent violence and to respond to emergencies.â€
Additional reporting by Kelly Lucus.