Arkansas Colleges Hear Tips on Crisis Measures

Speed, accurate information and training can make the difference between life and death in an incident of campus violence, state law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Representatives from the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas State Police, the Little Rock Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others spoke about crisis procedures to a crowd of higher-education officials from across the state.

In the wake of last week's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education organized the presentation at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock. Officials from both private and public institutions attended.

John A. White, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, opened by discussing how his campus handled a deadly shooting in 2000. Graduate student James Easton Kelly fatally shot John Locke, the English professor who oversaw his course work, then turned the gun on himself.

White said three minutes after Kelly fired his gun, a call came into campus police.

"At 12:16 p.m. - one minute later - two officers were outside that office," White said. "Had we not been able to respond that quickly we may well have faced a situation not unlike that at Virginia Tech." White said Kelly had 90 rounds of ammunition on him and the names of all the faculty members on his doctoral committee.

White later acknowledged that professors knew Kelly was troubled, just as Virginia Tech professors have said of Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of last week's mass murder.

But White said when universities across the country have sought to drop students for strange or erratic behavior, they have often faced lawsuits.

The state's public universities each have fully accredited police departments with the training and authority of city police officers. Many private institutions have only unarmed security officers.

Each university and college also has a plan to deal with potential emergencies.

Col. Steve Dozier, director of the state police, advised campus officials to develop and practice their plan with municipal, county and state law enforcement. Dozier was one of the officers who responded to the Westside Middle School shootings near Jonesboro in 1998.

"It's important to build a network and get to know one another," Dozier said. "You don't have time to make friends in a crisis." Lt. Terry Hastings, a spokesman for the Little Rock police, said teachers and professors need to be trained to barricade their doors against an attacker as soon as shots are fired.

"When people hear gunshots, so often their first instinct is to see where the noise is coming from," Hastings said. "People need to do what they can to get away from the shots." Jim Clark, director of the Criminal Justice Institute of the University of Arkansas System, also urged campuses to all routinely practice their emergency plans.

"It's like a game of golf," Clark said, "you aren't going to get any good without practice."

This article was published 04/25/2007