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College Campuses' 'Open Gates' Complicate Security Challenges

College officials are struggling to combat mass shootings when their campuses' "open gates" policies undercut increased security measures they have put in place, the Wall Street Journal reports. Michigan State University used surveillance footage to help track down the alleged shooter who killed three students and injured five more on Monday night. Images that police shared publicly ultimately led to a tip about the suspect, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae, who apparently killed himself when he was apprehended. Those measures helped after the fact. But there is a limit to how much school officials can control access to or within campuses. “We aren’t going to erect fortresses around our campuses,” said Kristen Roman, chief of police at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s about finding that balance, what tools do we see as necessary, what tools do we see as reasonable, and what are the resources that campuses have to procure those and implement them.”


Some universities use facial recognition technology, track students’ movements with GPS software and monitor their messages on social media for warning signs of potential violent actions. Some use weapons detection systems at stadiums and have installed panic buttons in classrooms and acoustic sensors to detect the exact location of a gunshot. Still, in the past six months, there have been fatal shootings at or near the campuses of schools including the University of Virginia, University of Southern California, University of Arizona and Morgan State University. It is common for schools to require that students swipe their identification cards to enter residence halls, but keep many other buildings open to the public. Even those buildings that are restricted to students or staff are exposed to a potential violent incident if the attacker had an ID card. At Michigan State, police said the suspect fired shots shortly after 8 p.m. at an academic building and student union that were unlocked at the time of the shooting. When there is broad access to campus facilities — or just a big campus, like Michigan State’s 5,200 acres — the key becomes quickly pinpointing where an incident is occurring, school police say. It isn’t practical to routinely station officers at every corner, said Tom Saccenti, president of the National Association of Campus Safety Administrators and a former chief of police at the University of West Georgia. Instead, he said, police forces are increasingly turning to tools like ShotSpotter, which uses acoustic tracking and can locate gunshots to within a few feet of an incident.

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