WCU, UNC system working on safety

WCU officials mobilizes an emergency operations center on Freshman Move-in Day to help practice for emergency scenarios.

WCU officials mobilizes an emergency operations center on Freshman Move-in Day to help practice for emergency scenarios.

With the addition earlier this year of a new position in the University Police Department responsible for compliance with federal reporting requirements regarding campus crime, Western Carolina University is at the forefront of addressing recommendations from the University of North Carolina system designed to improve campus safety.

Among the priority recommendations contained in the 2013-14 UNC Campus Security Initiative Report to the President released during the UNC Board of Governors meeting Thursday, July 31, is for all campuses of the system to establish and adequately fund a position to oversee compliance with the Clery Act. Established in 1990, the Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to properly record and report information about crime on and near their respective campuses.

Western Carolina appointed Bruce Barker, who has held various roles in the University Police Department and the Office of Human Resources since 2006, to the role of Clery Act compliance coordinator this past spring. In his new position, Barker is responsible for ensuring compliance with daily crime and fire log requirements, establishing compliance programs, developing policies and procedures, preparing annual reports on campus security and collaborating with university police on “timely warning” requirements.

Although the Clery statute is only about four pages in length, the U.S. Department of Education Handbook detailing the act’s requirements is more than 300 pages, with more added every year. Clery Act compliance has become very complex and is an institutional responsibility with very strict guidelines, said Earnest Hudson, WCU chief of police.

“It is vital that we ensure that we are complying with the requirements of the Clery Act because failure to do so can lead to severe financial implications, including the loss of federal financial aid for students,” Hudson said.

“But it’s far more important than that,” he said. “Properly informing students and their parents, faculty, staff and visitors about campus safety, and reminding folks that reporting crime information is a responsibility shared by many individuals is vital to our commitment to security and safety. I am proud that our institution is at the forefront of this systemwide effort to identify a Clery compliance coordinator.”

In addition, WCU also was among the first UNC campuses to have a dedicated officer responsible for victim assistance issues, another recommendation in the UNC Campus Security Initiative Report to the President. Sgt. Tammy Ammons-Hagberg completed training through the N.C. Victim Assistance Network in 2012 to become certified as a victim service practitioner, a certification that remains valid until March 2016.

In her role as support services sergeant, Ammons-Hagberg works cooperatively with campus detectives, the Office of Student Affairs, Department of Student Community Ethics, Counseling and Psychological Services, Health Services and many off-campus departments and resources to ensure that victims are informed about their options and to provide post-crisis support to those who report they have been victims of crimes. She also serves as WCU’s crime prevention coordinator, scheduling and coordinating all university police programs offered to faculty, staff, students and the community to raise awareness about crimes against people and property.

WCU is ahead of the curve on other recommendations in the UNC report, including the procurement and installation last year of Clery compliance software that integrates with the university’s computer-aided dispatch and public safety records management system. The new software automatically produces daily crime and fire logs and provides a dashboard for public safety officers to review all reported offenses that may need to be reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

The university’s emergency management unit recently obtained a new smart phone app geared to students that will be rolled out during the 2014-15 academic year. The new app will be in addition to the existing WCU Alerts, a system that allows students, faculty, staff and parents to receive messages in case of emergency via email, cell phone or home phone. Messages also are delivered via a desktop notification system unveiled last year through which faculty, staff and classroom computers will receive full-screen messages during times of emergency.

The university also uses the annual Freshman Move-in Day, including the one held Friday, Aug. 15, to practice and prepare for response to emergency situations, by opening an emergency operations center with representatives from University Police, Emergency Management, Facilities Management and Residential Living along with other university administrators. County emergency management and local and state law enforcement and fire officials also take part.

WCU officials say they are examining other recommendations made in the UNC report and will continue to work collaboratively with other campuses to identify and better understand what it takes to make UNC campus communities more secure.

Launched last fall by UNC President Tom Ross, the initiative brought together vice chancellors, law enforcement personnel, counselors, faculty, students, and others from across the UNC system to explore the complex issues surrounding sexual assault and other violent crimes, campus security and crime reporting. The full UNC Campus Security Initiative report is available online at northcarolina.edu/campus-security-initiative.