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MATT GENTRY| The Roanoke Times
Sunday, April 21, 2013
A town police officer and a college security guard patrolled the New River Community College’s Christiansburg satellite facility Wednesday morning, five days after a shooting that injured an employee and a student.
The beefed-up security presence probably brought some comfort to students and employees as they resumed classes at the college’s New River Valley Mall location for the first time since the April 12 shooting. It’s not clear how long that presence will be maintained. But college officials are taking the prudent step of evaluating security in the aftermath of the shooting.
New River Community College has relied on unarmed mall security guards to watch over the Christiansburg satellite facility, where about 1,300 students take courses in a converted movie theater. The college employs a private security service with no law enforcement authority at its main campus in Dublin. The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office handles the rare incidents that require an arresting authority. The arrangement has served the college well.
“It has not been seen as a problem,” said college spokesman Mark Rowh.
The law enforcement response to the April 12 shooting was swift and strong, aided by off-duty mall security director Jim Gorman, who apprehended the alleged shooter in the parking lot. But college leaders, along with state officials and local law enforcement agencies, should consider whether a permanent, more visible police presence would benefit NRCC and other community colleges.
“I think everything’s on the table right now,” Rowh said Thursday.
Community colleges don’t need the same level of around-the-clock police services as four-year institutions with students living on campus. But 11 of the state’s 23 community colleges have a combination of police and security officers on campus, according to the Virginia Community College System. Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke has a fully accredited police department with nine officers and employs a security officer to patrol the campus during overnight hours.
Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed a school and campus safety task force in January in response to the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn. The panel’s initial recommendations dealt largely with safety and mental health issues affecting public schools. The task force remains active and could, if it chooses, evaluate security at community colleges.
“I’m sure it’s something we’re going to have a discussion about at our next meeting,” said Del. Joseph Yost, R-Blacksburg, a member of the task force.
Yost cautioned that any recommendations “will probably come down to an issue of resources,” which community colleges have had to stretch thin in recent years. Enrollment throughout the system increased by 50,000 between 2008 and 2012, while state funding was slashed by more than $100 million.
Virginia’s community college system is an indispensable component of the state’s higher education system and plays a vital role in workforce training. Without being alarmist, it would be worth the task force’s time to examine security protocols to make sure that students and employees can continue to flourish in a safe environment.
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