The reform movement is forcing educational facilities to revise their approaches to campus safety and security.
With last summer’s protests in response to the death of George Floyd and the “defund the police” movement that followed, many K-12 school districts and colleges are considering making cuts or have already reduced the budgets of their campus public safety or security departments. In quite a few cases, those funds are being redirected to mental health and social services for students.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with these changes, the defund/reform movement is forcing educational facilities to revise their approaches to campus safety and security. No longer will colleges and school districts be able to assign all of their security and public safety responsibilities to the campus police or security department.
Instead, more of the responsibility for protecting the campus community will be on the mental health and social services professionals who will hopefully identify and address student issues before they escalate to self-harm or criminal activity. If they haven’t already, campus security and police executives will need to build strong relationships with these individuals so they can help carry the load.
This type of collaboration should not be new. Security, law enforcement, emergency management, administration, facilities, IT, mental health, human resources, faculty, risk management, legal, Title IX coordinators, social services and more should already have solid relationships and be working closely together. However, the changes resulting from the defund movement will require these practices to go into high gear.
Campuses with a reduced law enforcement and security officer presence will also need to rely more heavily on technology and equipment, such as video surveillance, access control and emergency communication/notification solutions to act as force multipliers to make up for any gaps that result from the changes. Although nothing can take the place of the relationships that officers develop with students, faculty and staff, technology has many advantages.
Unlike people, security cameras, locks, mass notification systems, security window film, two-way radios and other types of equipment don’t call in sick, take vacation, get injured or miss work because their car broke down. Schools and institutions of higher education will need to rely on these solutions even more now. In fact, new investments could very well be required in order for the campus to maintain the same level of protection as before.
It’s also important to note that COVID-19 is shining the spotlight on the importance of indoor air quality and the need for proper ventilation in schools. So, in addition to all of the other safety issues schools and universities are needing to address, they are also looking at upgrading their HVAC systems.
This new focus on air quality is a very good thing since many campus buildings are old and desperately need to replace their HVAC systems to not only stem the spread of the coronavirus, but also improve student health long after the pandemic has passed.
The good news here is that CARES Act funding (the Education Stabilization Fund) is currently available. These grants can be used by educational facilities for upgrades to their HVAC systems and other technology solutions intended to improve health and safety on campus.
The changes being ushered in over the next several months will require campus protection pros to be flexible and willing to look for and take advantage of the opportunities that are available. Change is always unsettling but can provide the chance for security, public safety and emergency management practitioners to shine.
This article first appeared on SSI sister publication Campus Safety.