The Surprising Effectiveness of Student Building Monitors

News and views from academia.
June 12 2014 4:48 PM

The Surprising Effectiveness of Student Building Monitors

Student monitors like Jon Meis make campuses safer without ever having guns.

University of Michigan at Flint.
Officials credit the increased use of student patrols with a reduction in campus crime at University of Michigan at Flint.

Photo courtesy of University of Michigan at Flint.

This article originally appeared in Inside Higher Ed.

Tragedy was not averted at Seattle Pacific University Thursday afternoon: A man fired gunshots that killed one student and left three injured. The potential massacre was cut short, however, when Jon Meis, a 22-year-old engineering student, pepper-sprayed and tackled the gunman, who had paused to reload. The shooter, Aaron Ybarra, later told detectives that he’d wanted to kill as many people as possible.

Meis was working as a student building monitor when he rushed to subdue the shooter. Seattle Pacific officials declined to share details about the 22-year-old’s building-monitor job, saying the institution was not commenting on its security programs at this time. Officials also declined to confirm whether Meis was carrying pepper spray as part of his campus job. (His roommate told the Seattle Times that the student takes the spray with him wherever he goes.)

Advertisement

At a time when concealed-carry advocates often insist that allowing students to carry guns will improve campus safety, experts say students—typically armed with defensive spray and training in radio dispatching and verbal commands—already make outsized contributions to campus security.

Student security jobs such as Meis’ are a fixture at “a very large number of universities and colleges across the country,” said David Perry, assistant vice president for safety and chief of police at Florida State University.

“It’s almost a common practice, if not a best practice, to employ student escorts, student security officers, on colleges and universities,” he said.

Perry, president-elect of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, which represents more than 1,200 colleges and universities in 20 countries, stressed that Meis’ intervention in the campus shooting was unusual.

“He was heroic,” Perry said. “He went above and beyond what the training and what the requirements were for this job. I applaud him for going above and beyond that to protect human lives. But he wasn’t trained to be proactive; he’s trained to be in a defensive posture and report that immediately to dispatch and police.”

Institutions routinely employ students as security guards to “serve as a force multiplier”—extra sets of eyes and ears that can report suspicious activity—for campus police units, Perry said.

At the University of Michigan at Flint, officials credit the increased use of student patrols with a reduction in campus crime, MLive reported.

The job description varies from institution to institution. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas employs six student security officers, said Lieut. Jeff Green, an officer in the UNLV department. UNLV's student guards are outfitted only with radios. They receive “no formal training” apart from learning how to use these devices, which keep them in constant communication with dispatchers, Green said.

At LeTourneau University, a small Christian institution in east Texas, student guards made up the bulk of the campus-security apparatus for about 30 years. Until January 2009, the school had no police department, said Terrance Turner, LeTourneau’s chief of police. Student officers patrolled the campus and reported to two professionals. Four part-time and two full-time police officers now supplement the student workers, Turner said.

The Texas institution currently employs 11 students as guards. Each “recruit” (as Turner called them) receives 40 hours of field training, including empty-hand martial arts tactics. All student guards carry pepper spray, Turner said. He recalled only one instance in the past 10 years when a student guard used the spray in an altercation (it was during a theft).

Perry said best practices for institutions that employed student guards included training the students in “verbal judo” to help them issue commands authoritatively, and giving the guards pepper spray to use defensively.

In a statement released Monday, Meis said he was able to stop the shooter “through God’s grace.” The student, who has attracted more than $50,000 in unsolicited gifts for his honeymoon, requested in the statement that any future donations go to the Seattle Pacific victims. 

Charlie Tyson is a reporting intern for Inside Higher Ed. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 19 2014 1:10 PM Ascension Island: Home of Lava Fields, a False Forest, and the World's Worst Golf Course
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.