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A 'joke' takes police to Angell Hall


Published February 14, 2013

“Initially, I was extremely frightened and concerned that I would be in one of the rare cases of a school shooting or violence.”

Institutions of higher education across the country have tightened security and have re-examined emergency response plans in the wake of a series of high-profile mass shootings. The 2007 incident at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was the second-largest mass shooting at a school in U.S. history, taking the lives of 32 people and wounding 17 others.

Tony Holt, Wayne State University police chief, outlined the factors that go into making tactical decisions similar to UMPD’s armed response.

“In a University setting, you have to be very proactive,” Holt said. “At Wayne State, there are no weapons allowed, (so) if we got a call, with even the suspicion of someone having a weapon on University property, we would probably first send out a text alert to the campus community and then launch a full tactical operation.”

Like WSU, the University prohibits weapons on campus.

Holt said that whenever there is even the possibility of danger in a campus setting, immediate action must be taken to ensure student safety and minimize displacement, even if the presence of a weapon cannot be confirmed.

“Whenever a gun is even a possibility, we have to err on the side of caution and safety because you don’t get second chances in situations like this,” Holt said.

Though an armed police response may have scared some students, Holt said it’s better to be safe than sorry, comparing it to sending officers to investigate if a fire exists instead of a fire truck.

“We don’t take anything as a joke. A lot of people may think it’s overkill for cops to come in full tactical gear, but student and campus safety has to be our number one priority at all times,” Holt said.

The proximity and credibility of incident reports is crucial in determining the course of action to be taken, said Ronald Haddad, chief of police in Dearborn, Mich.

“You can always scale back the investigation when it’s determined that he’s not a threat, but when you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you have to error on the side of caution,” Haddad said. “Obviously it would have been unacceptable if the tip had been discredited and then the suspect turned around and shot up a bunch of young people.”

Haddad said UMPD’s immediate, armed response was necessary because DeFluri was in a campus environment with a large, dense population.

“I understand the validity of the first amendment and this young man’s right to express himself, but imagine if he’d gone to an airport (in camouflage and a gas mask),” Haddad said. “He would have been immediately met by police, Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, and everyone else, because you can’t take those kind of risks.”

The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and last year’s incidents in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., were all perpetrated by people under the age of 25. There has been speculation that the shooters in these cases were all suffering from some form of mental disease.

According to a Jan. 22 video report by CBS News, police units across the country are retraining officers to better confront uncertain situations, especially when there is an active shooter is involved. In a training exercise at George Mason University, officers moved in without waiting for backup and swept the hallways searching to find the “shooter.”

At the University of Michigan, police appeared to respond in a similar manner. Regular, uniformed officers swept the hallways as a plainclothes commanding officer coordinated units around the building from outside.

In September, the University of Texas and North Dakota State University both responded quickly to bomb threats on their campuses, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of students.