By Ivan Flores
A dreaded call was made to Mott Community College; someone claimed to have seen a threat of a school shooting on social media. The school was closed immediately, according to Dawn Hibbard, MCC communication specialist.
The FBI and Michigan State Police were called. Local law-enforcement agencies were summoned for help. But the first police officers to respond were from MCC’s own police department. They evacuated the school and began the process of searching and securing the campus.
The incident happened Monday, Feb. 6. By the following afternoon, MCC’s Department of Public Safety had identified the caller, and he was apprehended. According to Hibbard, the FBI found no threat on social media.
The call raised an uncomfortable question schools hope they never have to answer: “Are we ready for an emergency?”
MCC’s main campus is in Flint, with campus extensions throughout Genesee County. Mott became the first community college in Michigan to adopt a fully certified police department back in 1998.
“It has become part of our culture,” Hibbard said. “Our crime stats are incredibly low compared to the city’s. The students feel safe on this campus.“
An unscientific sampling of Washtenaw Community College students by the Voice found a majority feel safe here, too.
However, WCC is not immune to crime. Indeed, there was armed robbery on campus Thursday, Feb. 9.
Could it have been stopped? WCC’s Campus Safety & Security Department does not currently have the resources or legal authority to provide that kind of security. The school relies on the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department in the event of an emergency.
|A look at campus security teams|
|College||Location||# of Students||Campus Size||Security|
|Mott||Flint||8,937||79-acre main campus||Certified police force|
|Schoolcraft||Livonia||13,000||300 acres||Certified police force|
|Washtenaw||Ann Arbor||12,295||285 acres||Trained, non-police security staff|
Schoolcraft College, in Livonia, is another school with a fully certified police department on campus. It has a student population of around 13,000 students, and a campus of 300 acres. It’s similar in size to WCC. Lt. Mark Engstrom said his department can respond to an emergency anywhere on Schoolcraft’s campus in under a minute. The department employs 22 officers with three on each shift.
Engstrom stressed that city of Livonia police officers and the Wayne County Sheriff Department simply don’t have the capability to respond that quickly. He said that response time is hampered by factors including the location, availability and number of city police officer and familiarity with campus.
Schoolcraft’s police department is relatively new. Although Schoolcraft has had armed guards on campus for a number of years, it was only in March of 2016 that the safety department became a police department.
During the last school year, WCC was discussing a contract with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department to provide two school resource officers. Critics, like Board of Trustees member Dave DeVarti, opposed the plan because of concerns about students with criminal records. A deputy serving as a school resource officers, or SRO, would be obliged to enforce the law as understood by the State of Michigan. That means they would have to make arrests for things like possession of marijuana, and issue tickets for rolling through stop signs.
However, Schoolcraft’s Engstrom noted that school police officers departments have more discretion.
“We tell our police officers that sometimes a student has more to learn from the (school) disciplinary system,” Engstrom said. “A kid with a joint doesn’t necessarily need to go through the criminal justice system.”
Likewise, at Mott, the police and their students have a respectful relationship, officials said. The school has special programs to help students with criminal records.
One program is ordered by a judge instead of sentencing jail time for first-time felons, and the other is for the education of inmates.
Mott’s Hilbbard said the approach at that college’s department of safety requires that the police officers be integrated into the school community, and that they get to know the students.
“I can’t reiterate enough how polite our police department is,” she said. “The way it’s run makes a difference.”
For now, WCC does not have any plans to implement the SROs or to deputize its security team.
Scott Hilden, who became the new chief of campus safety this past November, is working recommendations for the Board of Trustees. (Previous coverage Jan. 30.) The former deputy chief of the Canton Police Department, Hilden indicated those recommendations will be completed this semester.