Security ‘paramount’ for PCC


In light of the recent shootings at Umpqua Community College and Northern Arizona University, security rose to the top of Pima Community College’s agenda.

The Security and Safety Improvements Progress Report that was published earlier this month explained the steps taken since 2011 to improve campus security.  According to the report, protections such as corridor locks, an emergency paging system, college police officers and an employee assistance program are all in place and up-to-date.

Freshman Mandy Ressler, a theater student at Pima, said that she has minimal concerns about campus safety.

Ressler takes classes at the East and West campuses. She said that while she appreciates how quickly Pima responds to incidents, she wishes West Campus police were more visible at the Black Box and Proscenium theatres where she studies.

“I always see police officers when I’m at the East Campus, but I’ve never seen them at the theaters,” she said.

Because of the two recent shootings on college campuses, Pima has requested their police officers make their presence known on all campuses by increasing patrol and being more visible while working.

When the Aztec Press contacted police commander Michelle Nieuwenhuis for information regarding campus safety, she declined to comment and deferred the paper to spokesperson Libby Howell. Per the new media guidelines created for PCC this month, faculty were instructed to direct media inquires to Howell before an interview was granted. After multiple attempts to gain access to Nieuwenhuis, Howell handled the questions herself.

On Oct. 13, there was an incident at the West Campus regarding a potential suspect with a rifle. According to Howell, the incident posed no actual danger at the campus.

Once a student reported seeing a suspicious individual, faculty alerted campus police, who worked with the Tucson Police Department to search the West Campus. No evidence of foul play or suspicious activity was found. The evacuation conducted by TPD was not Pima procedure, said Howell, and in the case of a real threat, students would instead be kept indoors and sheltered.

Multiple alerts were sent to students and faculty via email and texts regarding the incident.

In the Pima Community College Annual Security Report, also known as the Clery report, Pima’s policy on defending oneself against an active shooter involved several steps. Students are told to hide and remain calm, but if in imminent danger they are to act “as aggressively as possible” while committing to their actions.

“The security of our students, employees and the general public is our paramount concern at PCC and we are committed to supporting on-campus safety and security measures throughout the college district,” said Chancellor Lee Lambert.

One major change being made at the college is the implementation of a pilot program for camera systems at Pima campuses. The Downtown Campus is currently the only location with the surveillance system, and PCC dispatch police are monitoring the images captured to test the effectiveness of the cameras. Howell said that the testing will be complete by December. Because the system is costly, Pima has to ensure it will improve safety before they install it at all campuses. So far, college officials are pleased with the results and expect to be evaluating the possibility of budgeting camera systems for all campuses.

When asked about the cameras, Ressler, the theater student, expressed support for a camera system.

“If people have a problem with them, they have a problem with being safe,” she said.

In contrast, sophomore Garrett Encinas said that a camera would just provide evidence before and after a crime was committed.

“It doesn’t create a sense of security. The camera won’t stop a crime,” he said.

Downtown Campus made sense as the test location for the cameras because it has the highest crime rate of all Pima’s locations and is surrounded by neighborhoods that also have high crime rates. The most common crimes were related to theft, drugs and alcohol.

In the 2012-2014 reports, illegal drug arrests stayed consistent. In 2012 there were 13 drug related arrests and in 2014 the number only went down to 10. Liquor law arrests showed the most dramatic decrease, going from 25 in 2012 to 2 in 2014.

The sharp decrease in crime was not due to any program or Pima action, but rather due to an audit on the security report itself. According to Howell, Pima was told they didn’t have to report all crime adjacent to a Pima campus.

“The reason for the decrease in liquor law arrests has to do with Clery reporting requirements, and not an actual decrease in crime,” she said.

“We are required to report any crime that takes place on the college “footprint,” even if it is technically not on college property. Our Clery auditor notified us during this time period that we no longer had to report this crime as being at the college and that it could be reclassified as public property,” Howell said.

One reoccurring recommendation for Pima safety and security reports, both in 2013 and 2014, was that students should receive security briefing in their orientations.

Encinas, who is both a student and employee at East Campus, has never received a security briefing. He said that the only steps he’s been told to take is to call 911 and use a code word so that any active shooter wouldn’t know he was talking to emergency responders. He’s never heard the plans for natural disasters or other emergency situations and doesn’t know what protocol is.

“There’s never been any basic training given,” he said. “Because of high school, I think I know what to do, but if I was only informed through Pima and could only act upon Pima’s information, I would be screwed.”

His sister Caitlin Encinas, also is a student worker at the East Campus, said that in the face of an emergency situation she would just leave.

“That’s all I would know what to do,” she said. “If I was working in the library and something happened, I would just hide behind the desk and cry. I wouldn’t know exactly what to do, but there are really good nooks and crannies under the desk.”

Mabel Ersch, a library technician at the East Campus, said that the faculty and staff have their emergency responsibilities divided up by sections at their respective campuses. Each section of the campus, such as the library, has a Campus Action Team comprised of faculty and staff that handle emergency protocols such as evacuations. These CAT members have meetings to ensure every team member is up-to-date on the protocols. The members aren’t permanent, and Ersch said that while almost every librarian is a team member, sometimes team members leave the program.

Howell said students could be more aware of incidents on campus by signing up for text alerts. While all Pima students and faculty receive security updates by email, only about 6,000 students are signed up to receive text message alerts. By texting the word “alerts” to 79516, students can sign up for the prompt and readily accessible alerts. The messaging system is only used for security updates, and Pima pledged to never bombard students with unwanted messages.

Howell also encouraged students to sign up for training, such as the new Rape Aggression Defense Program, to ensure they are as ready for an emergency situation as Pima.

While security is a top priority for faculty and administration at Pima, students say that they feel unprepared and that it feels like a lot of talk with no action. Freshman Nikolas Romero said that a safety and security orientation should be mandatory.

“I would know what to do because it’s common sense…but not everyone has that so they [Pima] would benefit from teaching students. The orientation should be mandatory, otherwise no one will go,” Romero said.

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Security cameras installed at Downtown Campus provide a constant eye on certain areas within the college. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press)

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