A student at the College of Southern Maryland said she feels safe when she is on campus. And more than half of the CSM students believe college officials could handle emergencies well, according to a 2018 report from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
However, Taylor Lombre, who works in the Leonardtown campus’ bookstore, said she’d like to see more security around at night after having “some bad encounters” when taking out the trash at the college.
“I’m not saying I don’t feel safe at work,” the 18-year-old said. “Maybe there should be more public safety come into the bookstore and stuff.”
The state’s report shows the majority of Maryland’s college students feel safe while on campus. However, after a few public safety incidents at colleges in St. Mary’s County, some local students said they would like to see more from campus security. College public safety officials told The Enterprise there are procedures in place to deal with emergency situations.
A fiscal 2018 school climate survey showed almost two-thirds of CSM participants believe the college handles incidences in a fair and responsible manner. But less than half, 45.6%, said CSM responds rapidly in difficult situations.
At Frostburg State University, the state’s higher education commission report shows nearly 100% of survey participants said they feel safe during the day and 83% said they feel safe in the evening. Close to the same amount believe campus police do all they can to protect the students.
A little less than 80% of Salisbury University survey participants said they feel safe on campus, but only about 60% agreed the college does enough to protect students’ safety.
Nearly eight out of 10 Towson University students who took the survey said they feel safe on campus, yet 64% believe the university would rapidly respond to a crisis.
Over half of Morgan State University and University of Maryland, College Park survey participants said their schools would handle a crisis well. Nearly 100% of University of Maryland Baltimore County survey takers said they feel safe on campus; however, 68% think the administration is genuinely concerned for their welfare.
A survey of St. Mary’s College of Maryland students showed the majority, 69.5%, of participants strongly agree they felt safe on campus, while about 10% disagreed. However, students at a Sept. 30 student government meeting at St. Mary’s College voiced concerns about how a recent public safety situation was handled, said they did not feel safe and questioned the drills in place.
Gun reports at SMCM
A brushed nickel phone case and a portable phone charger were mistaken by a college student for a gun on Sept. 24, according to St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s public safety department. Over a week later, unconfirmed gunshots on the college campus behind a residence hall were reported and the entire campus was placed in a lockdown. Investigations in both cases determined there were no threats and no weapons were found.
“We do not allow any person with a gun or weapon onto campus with the exception of law enforcement,” Tressa Setlak, director of the college’s public safety department, said in an email to The Enterprise. “If we discover someone on campus who is legally qualified to carry a gun or weapon, we ask them to leave campus.”
The college’s student government hosted a panel discussion where students voiced concerns and school officials said they would consider hiring a consultant to review their protocols and bringing back the Public Safety Advisory Council, a student group that communicates with public safety officers. The college officials said they also have “run, hide, fight” training and practice active shooter drills during the summer at the college’s residence halls.
Setlak said public safety is always looking to see if they need to upgrade their procedures and added all protocols are on the website.
One week after St. Mary’s College’s lockdown, on Oct. 10, CSM locked down its Leonardtown campus as the St. Mary’s sheriff office searched for a wanted individual in the area. Local police determined the person was not on campus and the lockdown was lifted about 30 minutes later. Bill Bessette, CSM’s executive director of public safety, said he was at the campus in La Plata when a public safety sergeant in Leonardtown called and told him a couple of police cars were on campus looking for a person who escaped. He said local police brought in a K-9 unit to search one of the buildings.
“At that time we made the decision to to lock down the campus,” Bessette said. He added he wanted to keep students safe and limit the number of people sheriff deputies would contact.
What do students think?
“I feel pretty safe. I’ve never had anything happen besides the lockdown. That was a little scary, other than that, I feel safe,” Diontre Porter, a 20-year-old CSM student, said. “I just feel like we’re in a good location,” he added while laying in a hammock at the Leonardtown campus.
Fellow student Alyssa Billings, 19, agreed. “I know there are good people here,” she added.
A.J. Anglemier, 17, referred to herself as a paranoid person and said she feels uncomfortable when she leaves her night class at 9 p.m. “I don’t think I even see them when I get out of class,” she said of the community college’s public safety staff, later adding that she’s seen stories about sex trafficking and would like a security guard to walk her to her car at night.
“I would say that there has been an increase in people reporting suspicious activity on our campus, but we want that” vigilance, Bessette said, adding the increase is not dramatic. “I’d always encourage our students to report.”
Procedures in place
St. Mary’s College’s active shooter protocol, “run, hide, fight,” states people must be prepared mentally and physically to deal with a shooting situation during the expected 10 to 15 minutes before law enforcement arrives. If gun shots are heard or an armed person is seen, “immediately choose the best way to protect your life,” the website states. “Very quickly, make your best determination of what is occurring and which of the options below will provide the greatest degree of security for you employing the ‘run, hide, or fight’ protocol.”
Bessette said CSM has a similar protocol and recommends, if immediately contacted by the shooter, to fight back, if nothing else. He also emphasized communication during this type of event. “People need to know what’s going on,” he said. “I think that’s the next largest part of our role.”
Bessette said CSM has several different types of communication avenues like emergency text messages, social media and a safe app, which provides campus alerts, a tip reporting portal and offline access to emergency plans. He also mentioned a feature called Alertus that takes over a computer desktop until the alert is acknowledged.
“We also have an emergency siren system all over our campus as well,” he said.
Bessette mentioned that students who enroll at CSM are automatically signed up for campus text messages. Students can withdraw from the feature but Bessette said there are “very, very, very few people who opt out.”
The CSM public safety executive director later mentioned he and his staff make themselves available to talk to students about public safety at a professor’s request.
At St. Mary’s College, staff have the ability to secure buildings remotely or manually. “In the event of a Lock-down/Shelter in Place order do not leave the building you are in until an all clear announcement is given by College authorities or local law enforcement,” the website states, adding that additional information can be found in the Emergency Resource Guide on the website and the 911 Shield App Safety Resources.