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IU Northwest News

Safe, Secure Schools: A Necessity for Learning

One Region Editorial by William J. Lowe, Chancellor

Thursday Feb 19, 2015

The central mission of all educational institutions is to provide high-quality, rewarding and relevant learning experiences. A university’s central mission, and the success of its students, relies on comfortable, safe and secure learning environments.

It is difficult to imagine that students and employees (or parents) are able to focus their energy and attention on teaching and learning if campus safety is compromised.

While universities and colleges across America are comparatively safe environments, the image of campus safety and security was challenged by a single gunman in April 2007, with the brutal events at Virginia Tech.

College campuses are, traditionally, very open, accessible places and, since 2007, campus leaders and security professionals have reflected and adapted, to both protect campus communities and preserve the distinctive character of the academic environment.

The cold realities of potential vulnerabilities have prompted higher education leaders and stakeholders to evaluate and elevate the full range of precautions and solutions that comprise campus safety and security.

Within one year of the Virginia Tech incident, 87 percent of American higher education institutions convened internal tasks forces to conduct comprehensive reviews of campus safety and security policies, procedures, and systems, according to a survey by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.

Mass notification systems, crisis training simulations, campus law enforcement investments, partnerships with local police and other security-related initiatives are no longer flying under the radar of campus communities, or at least they should not be.

Nationwide, Indiana University is probably a good example of campus responses. IU has invested significant resources, both in technology and specialist personnel, at all IU campuses, to insure the appropriate preparedness plans are firmly in place and regularly updated.

IU Northwest exemplifies how higher education adapts to the wide range of environments in which campuses are located. IU Northwest is in a vastly more urban and industrial setting than any other IU campus. Still, IU Northwest is one of IU’s safest campuses.

Campus safety data, measured by criminal justice experts from the IU Northwest School of Public and Environmental Affairs, shows a steep reduction in crimes on campus and in the Glen Park neighborhood.

This is not an accident, but the result of hard work by the sworn Indiana University Police Department-Northwest (IUPD-NW) officers, who diligently patrol our campus and its perimeter, in collaboration with the Gary Police Department, Lake County Sheriff and the State Police. 

Effective partnerships are key to neighborhood and campus safety. IU Northwest criminal justice professor Joseph Ferrandino leads the regional incident data mapping program that has become a model of not only inter-agency cooperation among local police departments, but a prime example of the distinctive ways college and university faculty can use their disciplinary skills to enhance public safety.

But, perhaps, the most effective and efficient way IUPD-NW safeguards our campus is through community engagement and collaboration.

Our campus’s commitment to community-based engagement is realized through employing police officers who know and are part of our community, which provides important insight that builds local trust and rapport that drives safety intelligence from neighbors.

Campus and neighborhood safety is among college and university leaders’ top priorities because there is a strong correlation between student success and safety

A study conducted by the Institute for Education and Social Policy confirmed students who report feeling unsafe in the classroom consistently experience adverse effects on academic performance and have higher absentee rates.

Academic achievement is a first critical step toward a satisfying and successful adult life. If security is compromised, so is our students’ and our region’s future success. The advancement of Northwest Indiana is dependent upon that level of success.

From preschools to universities, educational leaders agree Northwest Indiana’s students deserve safe, creative, inclusive learning environments. It is an essential investment in our One Region’s next generation of leaders.

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