Ill. governor seeking $25M for campus security

Governor wants state to fund systems such as sirens, text alerts, or even surveillance cameras


Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Tuesday he would ask legislators for $25 million to help colleges bolster security, a job the state's public universities estimated would cost $41 million, according to a state task force.

The campus security task force, convened by Blagojevich last year after 33 people including the gunman were killed in an April 16, 2007, shooting spree at Virginia Tech, released its findings Tuesday. They included recommendations on emergency response, mental health services and the treatment of privacy laws. The full report is available on the state's Web site.

"We want to be sure that our universities across Illinois are working together, sharing information, communicating with one another," Blagojevich said at an afternoon news conference.

Blagojevich proposed the state set aside funds to buy equipment like warning sirens, text alert systems or even surveillance cameras. Officials said colleges also could seek funds to help pay for preventive measures like hiring more mental health counselors.

John Peters, president of Northern Illinois University, where five students were killed on Valentine's Day, voiced strong support for the task force's findings.

"We must adopt these recommendations and help prevent what happened to NIU from happening on any other campus," he said.

The task force, composed of more than 100 experts in various fields, also found in a survey that one-third of the colleges do not offer mental health counseling and only about half of schools have a threat assessment team. Experts say these teams, made up of staffers, may be one of the best ways for colleges to detect students who may become violent.

About 60 percent of the state's 183 colleges completed the survey. Lorrie Rickman Jones, director of the state's mental health department, said mental health services on college campuses merit a closer look.

"There is notably an increase in students needing these services, and campuses must develop strategies to address these needs," she said.

Officials also recognized that many of the recommendations -- most of which are well-known -- may not prevent violence. The task force delayed publishing its findings because of the shootings at NIU.

"We realize that nothing can bring back those we lost at NIU and Virginia Tech, but we are putting forth our very best efforts to help prevent future tragedies on all of our campuses," said Lawrence Eppley, chair of the board of directors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.