N.J. Program Helps Colleges Share Best Practices

The state’s three-phase peer-review program provides a public safety baseline that all New Jersey institutions of higher education must meet.

The tragic shootings that took place at Virginia Tech in 2007 were a wake-up call for all U.S. institutions of higher education, and New Jersey schools were no exception. The state’s public officials knew their colleges and universities had to improve their public safety, but how? Up until that point, campuses couldn’t measure themselves against a baseline for campus safety and security because there really wasn’t one.

To bridge this gap, the New Jersey Presidents Council and New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness asked subject matter experts and practitioners in the fields of safety, security, mental health, and environmental health and safety to put together an effective methodology for identifying and analyzing campus safety and security vulnerabilities. The process would provide a flexible framework that institutions around the state (and even the nation) could use to solve their public safety challenges.

The result of these efforts was a peer review program that requires schools to take a hard look at themselves. The process, which is the only one of its kind in the nation, gives institutions a way to review the laws that impact them and assess how or if they are meeting the requirements of those laws.

To date, 53 of New Jersey’s 66 colleges and universities have completed the self-assessment, and 37 institutions have completed onsite reviews. The goal of the program is to have all of the institutions of higher education in the state participate in the program.

To provide a more in-depth view of this initiative, Campus Safety magazine interviewed three individuals involved in its development and delivery, including Lauren McLellan, who is the project administrator/director for the New Jersey Presidents’ Council — Campus Safety and Security Committee; Bill McElrath, who is Monmouth University’s chief of police; and Brigadier General (Ret.) William Marshall who is assistant vice president for government and military relations at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.<p>Bill Mcelrath<br />“My favorite thing about the process is that we have been able to establish a baseline of security measures that every institution in the state can use as a guideline,” says Bill McElrath, who is Monmouth University’s chief of police.</p>

CS: What are your favorite aspects of New Jersey’s peer review process?

Bill McElrath: My favorite thing is that we have been able to establish a baseline of security measures that every institution in the state can use as a guideline. One of the best comments I have heard regarding this process came from a New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness representative when he said that if he were starting a college today, this is the first thing he would look at to maintain a safe and secure campus.

Bill Marshall: The process is open and transparent — it has been kept as simple as possible and allows for discussion at all levels to address the various courses of action that can be taken to get to consensus and develop products. It is a challenging environment and produces professional tools that can be effectively applied to resolve issues associated with campus safety and security.

Lauren McLelland: Mine is how it has provided schools with resources and access to people who can help them develop better policies and processes. If a school asks me who to reach out to for a really comprehensive policy, it’s now easy for me to direct them to the right person.

CS: How easy/difficult is it to convince institutions of higher education to participate? How do you encourage them to take part in the process?

McElrath: I think the initial reaction of most people is that the process will involve more work. I think that once they attend formal training, they realize the tool is something that is easy to use and will ultimately assist them with providing their institutions with a template on how to maintain a safe campus.

Marshall: During the formative stages of the process, this was a real challenge that required constant reinforcement and proactive communications between the leadership and the other stakeholders with biweekly calls and at least monthly face-to face-meetings. As the process matured, this became a more collaborative effort with some major information sharing sessions that brought us to where we are now: a very high level participative process with organizational and functional leadership that provides an efficient network for posing and answering questions that arise concerning policy, procedures and legislation.

McLelland: There were definitely some concerns about the benefits of the project at the very beginning. Everyone already has various job duties, and there are very few people who will ask for more work. Once people actually completed the first survey, there was a different reaction. They realized that it gave them a document that clearly identified what an institution’s requirements by law are for campus safety and security. It also gave them a way to assess their processes and policies to see how those things met the requirements of the law. We encourage the schools to take part by making ourselves available to answer any questions they have and assist them when we can.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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