‘BIT’ team targets goal of preventing, not reacting.
By: Dorian Roberts
In the shadow of the recent Sandy Hook shooting, students in America must once again reassess their feelings regarding safety at school. But Meramec students need not worry according to Campus Chief of Police Paul Banta.
Banta said the officers on campus are trained for a situation involving an intruder on campus.
“We are prepared as we can be for an armed intruder,” Banta said. “We attended the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) training which was put on by the St. Louis County S.W.A.T. team. It’s training for students and faculty on how to protect themselves in a situation where there is a intruder on campus.”
Meramec is armed with nine full time officers in the college’s employ, each trained and armed with semi-automatic weapons, tactical bulletproof vests and shields. Three officers are always on duty on-campus to ensure the safety of students and the campus is equipped with cameras, which stand constantly on guard for suspicious activity.
“We’re prepared as much as we can be prepared, but if someone is coming on this campus willing to lose their life trying to shoot other people it’s difficult to stop that from happening,” Banta said. “We’re taking all the precautions we can take.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Linden Crawford said the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) are proactive in the pursuit to prevent incidents from occurring on campus.
“All students see a video in their classrooms which include a brief active shooter scenario, and I think from our perspective we would like to expand on that a little bit,” Crawford said. “As far as prevention, the other thing I would say is in looking at current students or students that cause disruptions on campus. We are very active proactive with our Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) on campus.”
Banta said the campus police would be in control of an active shooter situation until they can hand the situation off to the local police department.
“If we have an active shooter on campus we will be mitigating the situation until we can turn it over to the S.W.A.T. team,” Banta said. “If somebody is here and they’re actively shooting people my men are going to go and take them out.”
Banta added the campus police prepare through training programs and drilling.
“We just did an active shooter drill with the Kirkwood Police Department and the entire police department across the district,” Banta said.
Banta said the “tools” include a pop-up alert system on all campus computers, a text alert system and several other warning systems to better divert students from danger.
“There are numerous tools in place to alert students,” Banta said. “If there is an intruder, we can quickly inform everyone on campus.”
Crawford said the schools takes counter-measures everyday to prevent a problem before it happens.
“We are actively involved in an Internet based prevention. You may submit a review anonymously if need be,” Crawford said.
As prepared as they are for an actual assault, eliminating the problem before it occurs is just as important according to Crawford. The BIT is a task force set out to numerous prospective situations to maximize correct responses Crawford said. The team, made up of Banta, Crawford, Meramec counselor Jason Duchinsky, campus police officer Michael Beach and Access Office Manager Linda Nissenbaum are in place on campus for immediate response to behavioral issues.
“I would say that in the three years we have been implementing and utilizing our BIT team, our team has become very mobile in responding to a variety of campus incidents,” Crawford said. “We feel good about the things we’ve done.”
Crawford said although the BIT can reach out to students, random shooters can possibly escape their reach.
“A random shooter wouldn’t fall into the constraints of our BIT team but in terms of working with student disruption, we try to step out and intervene with student issues so they would not escalate to such a level,” Crawford said.
Banta added that shooters often have mental issues, and that students can help by reporting this sort of behavior to the BIT team.
“If you look at the recent shootings that have occurred at schools, most of the shooters have had mental health issues,” Banta said. “If somebody is likely to hurt themselves or other we ask people to report to us if they think someone is going to be in that state of mind so we can be out in front of it and get that person to do counseling and maybe get an idea of whether they could be violent or not.”
Crawford said she believes the campus is safer as a whole thanks to the police force and the BIT team.
“We have become more effective at dealing with behavioral issues,” Crawford said.
In 2011, more than 120 BIT reports were filed and responded to. According to the FBI database on reports of violence there were only two cases of violent assault on campus in 2011. That’s a 98.33 percent effectiveness rating.
According to the BIT, behaviors to watch out for include being, disruptive, threatening or intimidating, and unusual behaviors.
Banta said it is important that students communicate to keep Meramec safe.
“We can’t be everywhere at once; we need students to be our eyes and ears,” Banta said. “We want to stop [crime] before it happens.”
To file a BIT report, students and staff can either visit http:/www.stlcc.edu/forms/incidentreport.html or by clicking the Behavior Incident Rpt Form link under the Need to Know section of Meramec’s homepage. All reports are anonymous.