Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=158574
Story Retrieval Date: 12/12/2013 9:39:26 PM CST
Jordan Graham/Medill News
Police and administrators tried to calm fears Thursday regarding the response to the report of a gunman at a law school building last month.
On Jan. 27 a report of a man with a gun on Northwestern’s downtown campus caused university officials to lock down several buildings and send thousands of emergency text and email messages to students and staff. Police found no one matching the suspect’s description during a three hour search, and the university reopened buildings soon after.
At a meeting Thursday Northwestern police authorities and other school officials revealed that a female staff member reported the incident after she rode with the gunman in an elevator and spotted the handle of a handgun protruding from his left pocket.
Northwestern Chief of Police Bruce Lewis also revealed what he called “an overwhelming response from law enforcement.” Thirty FBI SWAT team members, 16 Chicago SWAT team members, 33 Chicago police officers and 17 Northwestern police officers were called to the scene.
Lewis said police were still investigating last month’s incident and that he could not reveal all the details.
More than 100 people attended Thursday’s meeting, held in a downtown campus auditorium, called by administrators to explain the university’s response and answer concerns of members of the campus community.
Some students openly commended the university’s effort while others expressed dissatisfaction.
Hans Arora, a fifth-year Northwestern medical student, said he thought the university should be focusing efforts towards preventative rather than responsive measures.
“The things we learned from…Virginia Tech or Northern Illinois University, call for the need for preventative measures,” Arora said. “How is Northwestern responding to that? From the student level, we haven’t really seen any.”
Arora said the university has of history of ignoring preventable problems. He said it took four years for one medical school library to require students to show identification upon entering, even though multiple students had reported thefts by non-students.
Other attendees complained that emergency messages issued by Northwestern were confusing, filled with technical jargon students could not understand and building names that were unfamiliar.
Lewis, who also doubles as Northwestern’s associate vice president of public safety, said the school was currently addressing many of the concerns expressed at the meeting.
Freshmen are shown an instructional video on how to respond to a school shooting, Lewis said. Additionally, the university is working with many of its schools to help tailor approaches to handling emergencies.
Still he admitted that staff members were not properly oriented on how to react in such an emergency.
Lewis stressed that campus safety is a community effort.
“It is incumbent upon us to help our community to transition into [a prepared] mindset without imparting undo paranoia and fear,” Lewis said.
Rita Winters, an associate dean at Northwestern’s law school, said she agreed that change would require a wider effort.
“We need to look and assess access to campus buildings,” Winters said. “But that has to be coupled with a look at culture in terms of people needing to carry IDs, needing to make sure that they know that they only have electronic access.”