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Advice for the parents of Virginia Tech students

December 9, 2011

If you’re the parent of a teenager or young adult living on or near a college campus, chances are you have more than your share of worries. Student safety on campus shouldn’t be one of them – but, unfortunately, even the most beautiful campus can hide dangers.

Recent events at Virginia Tech certainly emphasize this, but are parents paying attention?

I worked for Virginia Tech; the BulldogPI was part of Tech’s campus watch security team. At that time, the Virginia Tech police department (along with the security department) was woefully underfunded. Even more alarming is that this continued after Cho shootings.

University campuses are busy places. A lot goes on at the university and in the surrounding Blacksburg community. Until someone winds up dead or severely injured, it seems people just don’t pay attention. In short, it’s not until tragedy strikes that anyone gives a Damn.

I’ve taken coursework in effective law enforcement. The textbooks and classroom instruction stress the importance of proactive versus reactive law enforcement. Unfortunately, that was not the approach I witnessed first-hand while working at Tech.

Several particular occasions come to mind, when I called in situations to dispatch that were on the verge of getting ugly and I was chastised for it. Intoxicated students in the parking lot across from the student union about to get into a major brawl; shouting matches that were turning really ugly. I was specifically instructed once NOT to contact dispatch until the fists were actually flying, until someone was bleeding. Uhh excuse me? That did not seem like pro-active policing to me.

Most of my blog readers are now familiar with the Collegiate Times, the Virginia Tech student newspaper.   Kudos to their editor-in-chief, Zach Crider, for his resourcefulness yesterday in keeping the Collegiate Times’ website up and running after it became overwhelmed by the sheer number of hits from people trying to find information about the shooting. Mr. Crider utilized alternate resources such as twitter to get new information out.

Speaking of the Collegiate Times, there’s an older article available online addressing the topic of Virginia Tech’s campus security.  In light of yesterday’s shooting I suspect people might be interested reading it.

As one of the anonymous sources quoted in the article, let me state this for the record:  I have the deepest respect for several of the police officers at Virginia Tech. The names Daniel Hardy, and Geoff Allen in particular come to mind.  Former Virginia Tech police officer Morgan Millirons, (now the sheriff of Giles County), is another. There are officers at Tech that would, and have, put their lives on the line to protect the students and faculty. The concerns and criticisms of those willing to take a risk and speak to the Collegiate Times were aimed Tech’s police department administration, not at the front line patrol officers. The story deals with the lack of effective equipment and a reactive versus proactive approach to campus security.

Now I don’t expect one article by a particularly outspoken PI, or the article by the Collegiate Times to make a strong enough case on the matter. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) also had concerns about the structure and training (or lack of it) on Virginia’s college campuses. As a result, they developed a ‘Blueprint for change‘ to address the need to overhaul security on Virginia’s college campuses.

The original ‘blueprint’ mentioned the Virginia Tech April 16th tragedy, specifically as a catalyst behind its inception.

I’d like to now shift gears. There are details and discoveries yet to be made regarding yesterday’s tragedy. Whether what transpired was entirely a random act or something completely different has yet to be determined. It appears Officer Deriek Crouse’s killer specifically targeted him, either randomly or intentionally. It’s unlikely additional funding, resources, equipment, or even training would have changed the circumstances surrounding Officer Crouse’s death. Perhaps that situation was unavoidable, perhaps it wasn’t. I’m sure that will be a topic of speculation and discussion for quite some time to come. There are many injuries, assaults, and accidents associated with Virginia Tech that ARE avoidable.

Virginia Tech and more specifically Blacksburg, has come to share many similarities with an out of control playground, locations where chaperones are conspicuously absent. Many students come from families of significant financial means, and arrive at school with substantial disposable incomes. It’s my experience, a significant number of those students get a little rowdy once the apron strings are cut and they move to Blacksburg. Based on Virginia Tech’s own

Campus life is fairly tame and supervised compared to what occurs off campus… but the students, the football craze, and the college all bring a lot of money to the area. As a result, the community seems to instinctively ignore much of the irresponsible behavior. Sometimes, situations that could have been addressed early are allowed to continue to the point tragedy strikes.

Readers may also want to read over my previous blog entry:

Yes, Virginia Tech, you have a drinking problem.

The BulldogPI has some advice for parents of Virginia Tech students:

If Johnny’s grades are slipping or you don’t approve of the young man that Katie brought home to meet you…

If you get a judicial referral letter from Virginia Tech making you aware that your child has been involved in an alcohol related incident….

If you hear disturbing stories of what’s going on while your child is down in Blacksburg…

Consider making some discreet inquiries into your child’s activities. Are they making all their classes? Are they spending a lot of time off campus with people who are not students? Are they drinking excessively?  We have the contacts on and off campus to discreetly assess your child’s behavior.  Don’t just blindly expect the system to look out for you and your loved ones.

Remember:  A proactive approach is always preferable to a reactive  ‘mop-up’ job.


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