Security measures at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln began in 1926 with a lone night watchman.
While students slept, the watchman provided security for UNL buildings by patrolling campus. The university expanded its security measures over the next three decades, and a “Special Police for the City of Lincoln” was established for UNL in the 1950s, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department.
As the campus continued to grow, UNLPD grew too. UNLPD named its first chief of police in 1969 and full-time commissioned officers replaced residence hall security in the 1990s. UNLPD also adapted with changing technology and added in-car cameras in police cruisers in the early 2000s.
Security protocol nationwide changed as well.
Many campuses established a police force after the University of Texas clock tower shooting in 1966. Prior to Columbine in 1999, universities did not have a plan for mass shootings, according to Josh Bronson, the director of training at the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Most school policies directed police officers to attempt to stabilize the threat and wait until a SWAT team arrived.
By the time the Virginia Tech shooting occurred in 2007, groups of two to four officers would enter the scene and attempt to neutralize the threat, Bronson said. Several universities established threat assessment teams to prevent mass shootings after the Virginia Tech tragedy.
Bronson said a university’s security should be specific to its needs, but he encouraged schools to establish a threat assessment team and conduct annual active shooter drills. He said each school needs to figure out the protocol that works best for it and practice it.
“These incidents, even though they make headlines, are pretty rare still,” he said. “ … it’s really important to make sure the training is the best that you can possibly get.”
UNLPD chief Owen Yardley said he does not want to wait to make changes by reacting to tragedies. He said the department makes observations about the community and creates solutions to make campus safer. For instance, UNL formed its threat assessment team in 2001 and helped Virginia Tech create its own team after the shooting.
Yardley and Bronson both agreed community members also need to reach out and voice their concerns.
“A lot of the things you do on the security side, we say it takes the community to provide security,” Yardley said. “You can’t rely on just the department because everyone is the eyes and ears for it.”
1966: University of Texas
Summary: Charles Whitman forever changed America’s notions of safety in public spaces when he killed 16 people and injured 31 others from the observation deck atop the Main Building tower at the University of Texas at Austin, before taking his own life. Gary Lavergne, the author of “A Sniper in the Tower,” said the University of Texas tower shooting marked “the first time anyone had taken his guns to go to school.”
Security after the event: Lavergne said the 90-minute rampage was a glaring realization of law enforcement’s deficiencies in stopping a shooter. The fatal inadequacies pushed law enforcement to form SWAT teams across the country and prompted universities to create police departments dedicated specifically to protecting campuses.
1969: UNLPD expands, names new chief of police
University Security was established in the 1950s as a sector of the Lincoln Police Department because of the growing campus community, according to UNLPD. In 1969, UNLPD named its first chief and added more policemen to the department because of increasing crime rates and students’ protests during the Vietnam War.
1992: UNL Attempted Shooting
Summary: UNL graduate student Arthur McElroy brought a rifle into an actuarial science classroom in Ferguson Hall on Oct. 12, 1992. He attempted to fire, but his gun jammed, which allowed the students to escape the classroom, according to an article by The Daily Nebraskan. According to Lincoln Journal Star reporter Lori Pilger, the late Lancaster County District Court Judge Bernard McGinn said McElroy was not guilty due to reason of insanity, and McElroy was sent to the Lincoln Regional Center. Then-Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt Jr. released McElroy in 2015, after writing that he “simply lacks the strength to physically hurt anyone.”
Security after the event: Ten days after the incident, UNL established 36 10-foot-tall emergency phones on campus, according to a study after the incident by retired Peru State College professor of criminal justice Kelly Asmussen and current senior research scientist at University of Michigan Medical School John Creswell. UNL also distributed brochures to students that promoted counseling services and letters explaining the various security offices on campus. The study also said students began volunteering to walk with each other at night.
Police Chief Kevin Cauble told The Daily Nebraskan in February 1993 that an increase in crime reflected national trends and was not specific to the campus. To adapt to the safety concerns, officers patrolled campus on foot rather than in vehicles. Additionally, UNLPD changed residence hall and building patrol officers from part-time to full-time commissioned community service officers.
UNL also established gun lockers for students, allowing them to keep their guns on campus but not in their dorms.
Former UNLPD officer Bill Manning said the incident was unique and nothing could be done to prevent it.
2001: UNL Threat Assessment Team Established
According to University of Nebraska Public Policy Center director Mario Scalora, UNL has one of the nation’s longest-running threat assessment teams.
UNLPD and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center established the threat assessment team in 2001. The team works together to de-escalate situations, according to Yardley.
Upon receiving a report, team members work with the people who submitted the report to address the situation promptly. Additionally, the team meets on a monthly basis to review threats, according to UNLPD.
“We’d rather spend more time on prevention rather than dealing with things after the fact,” Yardley said.
2007: Virginia Tech
Summary: Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 and wounded 17 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, constituting the nation’s deadliest school shooting. He shot and killed himself as police stormed the engineering building where Cho murdered 30 of the 32 victims.
Security after the event: In the wake of the shooting, Virginia Tech implemented virtually all 280 safety recommendations stemming from a safety report mandated by then-Virginia governor Tim Kaine, according to assistant vice president of university relations Mark Owczarski.
The recommendations included physical changes like removing door hardware to prevent assailants from chaining doors shut and proposals that became institutional standards of higher education — such as active-shooter procedures, emergency alert systems and threat assessment programs.
Active-shooter training is a part of the university’s new student orientation, and Virginia Tech tests its cross-platform emergency alerts every year. Owczarski said the university’s threat assessment team brings together campus voices to discuss and review cases that report someone to be a potential threat to themselves or others.
“The world changed for higher education on April 16, 2007, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “The notion that college campuses are grassy greens and safe places to be abruptly disappeared.”
After the change, he said he’s seen a silver lining in the institution’s push for threat assessment teams and multi-platform notification systems.
“That’s the best outcome I can see in light of the loss of life,” he said. “It helps us in higher education that the world expects universities to do more for these things.”
Late 2000s: UNL updates residential security system
UNLPD made proactive moves with security changes based on input from community members and its own observations about the amount of theft in residence halls.
According to Yardley, people wandered through hallways and stole items in unlocked rooms. UNLPD worked with University Housing to establish a system in which students needed NCards to enter a UNL building. Theft in residence halls dropped significantly after the system was installed.
2016: Ohio State
Summary: Ohio State University student Abdul Artan drove his car into a crowd of students on a sidewalk at the university’s Columbus campus on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. After he hit and injured six people, he jumped out of the car and attacked other people with a knife, according to The New York Times. He was shot and killed by a university police officer who was coincidentally on the scene within minutes of the incident, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. None of the 11 injured faculty members and students had life-threatening injuries.
Security after the event: The university released a video called “Surviving an Active Aggressor” in August 2018. According to director of media and public relations Ben Johnson, the video includes details about what to do if people are in a room that does not lock, how to exit through first floor windows and how to lock and barricade doors.
Prior to the incident, Ohio State University released a video about how to survive an active shooter, Johnson said in an email. Additionally, the university updated the Buckeye Alert system, which Ohio State Emergency Management uses to send alerts to the campus community.
Summary: Former student Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. According to Time, the 19-year-old dropped his AR-15 and vest and ran from the scene with his fellow classmates. He was arrested by the police later that day.
Security after the event: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School administration declined to comment about the aftermath of this event. However, according to The New York Times, the school hosts monthly code-red drills to prepare for school shootings. Two months after the shooting, students were required to carry books in clear backpacks. Administration also distributed new student IDs following the shooting to ensure people not affiliated with the high school are not on campus, according to CNN.
A statement from the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, which includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said the school enhanced its security protocol for the 2018-19 school year. Visitors now have one designated entrance by the school’s main office, and staff will interact with visitors through a video intercom system before unlocking the door and allowing them into the building.
Additionally, the district and community partners paid for new security cameras, which are monitored throughout the school day. The school also hired two counselors and 15 additional security guards.
The district also installed a fence around the school and closed off the building where the shooting occurred. Thirty-four portables — trailers which schools installed to quickly provide classroom space amid space shortages — are on campus to replace the building, which the district plans to remove. In the other buildings, classroom doors have a new lock system, ensuring doors will always remain locked from the outside.
This article was originally published in the April/May 2019 special edition of The DN.