Bethel president and campus safety comment on OSU attack and campus active attacker plans

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photo credit to CNN.com
On Monday, Nov. 27, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a student at Ohio State University, drove his car into a group of students and exited the car with a knife. 11 students were hospitalized after the attack, which ended with Artan being shot by Ohio State police officer Alan Horujko after Artan failed to obey orders to stop. Attacks such as the one on Ohio State have made headlines multiple times in recent months. Thankfully, Bethel has yet to experience a similar tragedy, but that isn’t to say the issue isn’t on the minds of the administration. “It’s always saddening and sickening,” said Bethel College president Gregg Chenoweth. “People are just so frustrated with the way things have been throughout our country for a few years now, and we hate to hear of it, and regardless of labels, whether it was terrorism or…Islamic extremism or whether it was none of the above, some of the debates about the political overtures of these acts are never quite as painful as the fact that people are getting injured or killed.” “It’s obviously a tragic situation, a tough situation to deal with,” said Paul Neel, director of Bethel’s campus safety. “In some ways, [with] things that are going on in the world right now, it makes it…kind of scary in its own little way.” When asked about whether an attack like this is a danger at Bethel, Chenoweth said that Bethel has been paying attention to the crime rates of the surrounding area to determine risk. As it turns out the crime rates at Bethel have plateaued or even lowered over the past few years. However, crime rates in the surrounding area have increased in certain facets such as drug-related crimes. “It’s not an especially acute situation for us in our region in that respect,” he said, “in terms of a trajectory, it’s not less safe than it has been in terms of reports, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t want to be vigilant.” “There’s always some risk,” said Neel. “There’s no perfect place...we could harden ourselves against potential outside attacks by [putting up] big walls and barbed wire fences, but that’s not who we are. That’s not what we’re looking for.” Neel also mentioned that the attacker on OSU’s campus was not an outsider, but a member of the campus community. Neel said that there is always an element of risk, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything imminent. There’s really no way to foresee something like this. Neel said that it doesn’t appear that Artan gave any kind of warning of his deadly plans beforehand. Neel urged students to say something if they notice something unusual or if someone seems to be very disgruntled over a certain issue. “No one gets up in the morning and says ‘today’s the day, I’m going to just try to run over a bunch of people and kill them,’” said Neel. “There’s a series of decisions that go into that, so it’s always our hope that as an institution or as persons or believers that we could help intervene in somebody’s life.” Bethel currently has a response plan in place for such an attack and is currently working on ways to make it stronger. Chenoweth mentioned specifically consultations with a former high-ranking FBI official who has done both tabletop and live exercises regarding an active attack on other Christian campuses. Other mechanisms in place at Bethel include an alert system that overtakes computer screens across campus and plays audio warnings from the phones. If an attack were to occur, this system would be activated as campus safety got in contact with local law enforcement to work to neutralize the threat. Communication with the community would continue throughout the incident. “The hope is that we would do very much similar to what Ohio State would do,” said Neel. “We would get that message out [so] people would have some information to be empowered to make some kind of a response on their own to do what’s best for them in that moment, and then we would work through the whole process of figuring out what was involved.” Chenoweth went on a bit further about the current plan. “We also have talked with faculty about basic first responses, ways of closing and locking doors and those kind of things,” he said. “We expect that we may, in early 2017, involve students in some kind of training exercise in case we were to encounter a situation like that.” Chenoweth said that he hopes to continue and expand these practices in 2017. One major part of the plan that Neel mentioned is the “Run. Hide. Fight.” strategy. In an active shooter situation, people are urged to, if possible, run and get themselves out of harm’s way. If running is not an option, students should hide as best they can, turning off lights and cell phones and locking doors to avoid being found. Finally, if faced directly with an attacker and left with no other choice, students should fight back. “Anything in my area can become my defensive [item],” said Neel. “We can throw chairs. We can do whatever we need to do. We just want to reiterate to folks that, in the end, if somebody’s really trying to cause serious bodily harm to you or those around you, you have the right to fight.” There’s one more safety precaution that has been discussed, and that’s arming campus safety officers. It’s obvious that there’s certainly no unanimous verdict on this; roughly half of the institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) arm their officers. What is the reasoning behind leaving campus officers unarmed? “People worry about friendly fire incidents,” said Chenoweth, “so by having officers armed, is there also an increased chance for people being harmed that wouldn’t have been harmed if there were no guns?” Neel, on the other hand, said he personally doesn’t see danger in arming officers. “I don’t personally see any specific danger in arming our officers,” said Neel, “other than, the fact is, we would be introducing firearms to our campus, but clearly there would be a training process and there would be a lot that goes with that. We wouldn’t just hand out firearms.” Chenoweth went on to mention conflicting governmental reports on the effectiveness of arming campus safety officers as well as the psychological feelings and effects such an action may have on students or, as Chenoweth put it, “people feeling less or more safe if officers are armed.” Chenoweth said there’s many facets that go into a decision like this, such as deciding on training, distributing the guns and discerning the times of day when officers would be armed. “It’s never really a binary choice of either/or,” said Chenoweth. “It involves lots of second-tier decisions, ‘if, then how?’” On the other hand, what benefits would come of arming officers? “[A] big benefit would be that we would be able to respond quickly,” said Neel. “We’re here. Response times vary for law enforcement. It just depends on where they are and what they’re involved with. There may be someone literally across the street when something happens, [and] that’s great, but they may be a distance away as well.” Chenoweth also mentioned response time improvements in regards to arming officers. “Even though the Mishawaka police station or the South Bend police stations aren’t very far [from] campus, we have some estimates that show how long it would take for them to get here,” said Chenoweth. “But the second question is not how long would it would take to get here...Are they familiar enough with our campus to go where the need is?” Armed campus officers are already familiar with campus. Having them ready to respond could cut response time in half or even by two thirds. Chenoweth mentioned another potential benefit of having armed officers on campus. “There’s an assumption in law enforcement that arming is a deterrent,” he said. “So if people know that we have officers who are armed, does that anticipate someone of evil intent? Does it deter them from action because they feel that they would be threatened from implementing their own evil act?” Another potential benefit of having armed officers on campus may be a reduction in casualty numbers in the case of an actual attack. After all, having armed officers would mean that an attacker could be dispatched from a distance before much harm was done. Considering conflicting reports as well as stable or declining campus crime rates, Bethel’s administration has decided that, for the time being, they will not be arming campus safety officers. “The institution has decided that at this point, the time has not been right to take that next step,” said Neel. “That’s a decision that’s in the hands of the president and the cabinet.” “Ultimately our decision was not to say that we would never arm [our officers],” said Chenoweth. “It’s that we think perhaps we would arm if new information came…[if] there’s a more credible threat or trajectory in the crime scenario of our area.” Chenoweth did mention that even the choice to arm isn’t black and white, as there are many ways to arm officers that are non-lethal, such as rubber bullets or tasers. While that may be the decision for now, Neel said that the discussion isn’t over. “The discussion over arming has continued,” he said. “That’s not something that’s just been settled…it’s an ongoing discussion of ‘are we at a place now where we need to take that step?’ And we’ve continued to work out what the plan would look like, potentially, if that would happen.” However, even with all this planning, Chenoweth acknowledges that Bethel is an urban campus and an open campus. It’s not possible to stop all potential attackers, which means a response strategy would focus more on minimizing harm. “When we talk about an age of terrorism, unfortunately, we can’t necessarily operate on a premise that we can stop it,” said Chenoweth. “Most of the response planning is around moderating its harm or moderating its effects. That is to say…instead of having thirty people harmed, maybe only four are harmed.” Neel mentioned the quick responses by OSU's officers during the recent attack. “My first response to [the news] was how well the institution responded to it,” he said. “They did a very good job and it’s continued to play out in the last few days as things have come out about the attack and how things were responded [to]. But Ohio State did a really good job responding to that and getting the information out.” Chenoweth mentioned one last factor Bethel has considered on this issue. “Our perspective as a Christian campus is that what the Scripture says, our battle is not against flesh and blood but the powers and principalities of the air. What that means is we do not neglect spiritual warfare in this regard,” he said. Chenoweth mentioned a weekly prayer meeting held in the Taylor Memorial Chapel, where a small group of people gather to pray for Bethel students and faculty. “We’re also praying for God’s heavenly protection over our students,” said Chenoweth. “We literally pray against those of evil intent that might come across campus, that God would foil the plans of those who have evil intent. We don’t neglect that. That’s important power that’s available to us. We believe in that [and] have faith in that…so I think we ought not forget to say that though Bethel has not experienced such an event [such as an attack] yet, perhaps it is because God has answered our prayer and He has blessed us in that regard, despite all the other choices on policy, training, whether to arm or not.”
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