Beware of Target Identifiers

Putting names on parking spaces, offices, building directories and other areas could put campus employees and officials at greater risk for assault.

From time to time, campus employees and students have been attacked in their offices, in classrooms, on campus grounds or in campus parking areas. Some of these attacks are committed by angry students, employees who have been terminated or suspended, estranged spouses, political extremists, individuals who are mentally ill or a host of other types of actors.

In some instances, attacks have been carried out by people from within the campus community who knew exactly were to find their victims. In other cases, assaults have been performed by violators who had to locate their victims to carry out their attacks.

One means used by attackers to locate campus victims are known as target identifiers. These include names or position titles posted on reserved parking spaces, student artwork outside classrooms, building directories indicating specific office locations for personnel who might be at heightened risk for assault. These identifiers have been used by criminals to attack and even kill officials in a number of campus settings.

A Florida school superintendent in his office was shot and killed by an employee he had terminated who faked his way past a receptionist by claiming he was an old friend from out of town who wanted to surprise his friend. Another superintendent was shot at his residence with a 12-gauge shotgun by a state senator in Indiana. Similarly, institutions of higher learning have had their share of attacks, such as at Georgia Private University where an employee who had been terminated set a series of arson fires before he was arrested.

Places of worship, K-12 public schools, healthcare facilities, prestigious and exclusive independent schools, corporate offices, military installations and a wide variety of other organizations have been the scenes of numerous attempted and successful attacks where offenders used target identifiers. Other attempts were thwarted because target identifiers were not present to help attackers find their intended victims.

Campus safety officials should consider when it might be dangerous to mark a parking space, office suite, classroom or other location in a manner that could help an aggressor find his or her targets. Changing a sign to simply say “reserved” could be all it takes for you to prevent an act of violence.

Michael Dorn is an internationally recognized authority on campus safety and the author of 19 books on the topic. He is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. Dorn, a member of the Campus Safety Advisory Council, works with a team of campus safety experts to make campuses safer around the globe through Jane’s offices in nine countries. He can be reached at schoolsafety@janes.com.

Photo courtesy Safe Havens International.

About the Author

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Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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