The importance of being active participants in campus safety

Picture courtesy of East Texan Lead Photographer/Staff Reporter Esme Galvan
Friends and classmates leave messages for the family of Deja and Abanney Matts.

Feb. 3, 2020, Deja and Abbaney Matts were victims of a domestic violence-related shooting in Pride Rock Residential Hall at Texas A&M University-Commerce. A candlelight vigil was held for the sisters at the Rayburn Student Center, Feb. 11, 2020. Further information about the incident can be found on The East Texan, the student-run news site of A&M-Commerce.

“In light of that, it is incumbent upon all of us as a community to report concerning incidents to those who can help and or intercede, such as UPD, Title IX, Counseling Services, and other advocacy centers,” said Sergeant Barbara Ferrara, West Texas A&M University Police Department.

WTAMU Chief of Police Shawn Burns sent an email to the campus community the day after the shooting explaining that “While details are not plentiful at this time, it is worth reminding everyone of our responsibility to each other…I am asking that we dedicate ourselves to safeguarding our campus and its occupants. This means being diligent in situational awareness, reporting anything that is concerning or out of the ordinary.”

Burns continued stating that most perpetrators do leak some information about their plan to commit these crimes so encouraging each other to report anything that is concerning or suspicious helps us all. UPD cannot do this alone, it requires all of us who work, study, visit, or play here to be a contributing member.

WTAMU also has a Behavioral Intervention Team which, according to their webpage, “exists to help promote the development of a healthy campus community at West Texas A&M University.” The multidisciplinary members made of select university employees meet weekly to reach out to those in need to try and get them the assistance, which helps make the campus community safer. They provide “early intervention and support to students who may display behavior that causes reason for concern for the welfare of the individual or the University community.” To report an incident, BITeam reports can be submitted online here.

“As far as active attacker information goes, situational awareness is one of the biggest keys to safety,” Ferrara said.

She continued by explaining that most preventative or avoidant measures a person can take will be eliminated if they are not paying attention to what is going on around them. Be alert to odd behavior, sounds, or things in general that are out of the ordinary (ie., gunfire, screaming, crashing sounds). If you are able to escape or evacuate safely, do so immediately and only call for help once you are somewhere it is safe to do so. Consider alternate escape routes such as windows, fire escapes, etc.

“If you find yourself in an active shooter situation where you are unable to evacuate, shelter in place using barricades or other objects to prevent an active attacker from entering the room,” Ferarra said.

This can be as simple as locking the door as most attackers want a body count and are going to move on versus wasting time trying to force entry into a locked room that may not have anyone inside. Barricades may fail so have an alternate plan and or be prepared to defend yourself including with lethal force if necessary and justified.

This information is all covered in CRASE training offered by UPD in more detail and will be held monthly in conjunction with a first aid/trauma training on the first Thursday of each month as long as there is interest. UPD also offers CRASE training upon request both on and off campus so if you know of someone who is interested in setting up a class, there are several of UPD officers who teach it and can accommodate that request.