When an incident occurs, FBI agents and many others in law enforcement are fond of saying, "a command post is no place to exchange business cards." Indeed, whether the emergency involves an active shooter, natural disaster or something else, if a campus' relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement aren't already established, precious hours can be lost developing the appropriate level of trust on the fly.
To address this challenge, the FBI created the Campus Liaison Initiative in 2008 so that the bureau could partner with institutions of higher learning to combat the threat of international and domestic terrorism. Now, more than two years later, campuses are experiencing the benefits of the program.
"Whenever I get information or something is posted anonymously on a Web site that may be threatening in nature, I can forward it to [the FBI liaison], and they'll take it from there and follow up with a lot better resources than I could ever get together," Wesleyan University Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer tells Campus Safety.
Although Meyer sings the praises of his local field division in New Haven, Conn., there are other Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) in the remaining 55 field divisions located throughout the nation that are also eager to partner with the higher education community.
Nonsworn Departments Receive Information on Threats
Unfortunately, the biggest challenge to the program is the fact that some campuses are still reluctant to work with the FBI.
"We've worked very hard over the years to overcome our historical reputation," says FBI Supervisory Special Agency Jennifer Gant. "Whether it was true back then or not, I don't know. I wasn't working then. However, I am working on it now, and I can tell you the FBI honestly wants to bridge this gap to develop relationships [with colleges and universities], work in an environment of trust and become partners with campuses. My greatest hope is that all of the campuses believe me and will come forward to work with us."
In the past, one significant concern many campuses had with the FBI was its inability or unwillingness - perceived or real - to share information on threats with nonsworn security departments. Gant says, however, that except for the eGuardian program, which is only available to sworn police departments, the Campus Liaison Initiative doesn't differentiate between campus public safety agencies.
"We understand that whatever agency is responsible for protecting the campus, it doesn't matter if they are sworn or nonsworn, or they carry weapons or they don't," she adds. "If they are charged with the protection of the campus, they are important to us."
For nonsworn departments that don't have access to eGuardian, Gant says the local FBI liaison or a local sworn agency can input the information on behalf of the department.