How Tyler JC Improved Its Security
To make students feel safer, this Texas junior college adopted a slew of measures, including CPTED, an anonymous text tip line, ID lanyards and more.
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In 2010, students walking across Tyler Junior College’s (TJC) main campus in Tyler, Texas, often reported that they felt unsafe and that females in particular were subjected to verbal harassment.
Loud arguments and fisticuffs disrupted classes and negatively impacted campus visits from prospective students and alumni. Drug arrests were frequent, and many non-students were issued trespass warnings and asked not to return.
TJC President Dr. Mike Metke knew something had to change. He appointed then-vice president for academic affairs Dr. Johnny Moore to organize a task force of faculty, staff and students to discuss measures for improvement.
That year, the college participated in the national Community College Survey of Student Engagement, which asks students various questions about support services, quality of instruction, parking, dining hall experiences and campus life. To the question “Do you feel safe on your college campus?” only 49 percent replied “Yes.” Six years and a long list of completed initiatives later, students now feel they are in a safe and civil environment – 94.9 percent answered “Yes” to the same question in 2016.
“We have seen a remarkable transformation of our college,” says Metke. “I believe our campus is the safest and friendliest place in Tyler. Students open doors for faculty, people are engaging and welcoming. And, we are pleased that other colleges and universities have contacted us to learn more about what we’ve done.”
The task force’s mission was to improve the overall health, safety, security and climate at TJC.
The first initiative centered on a technique known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) – removing the opportunity for crime by designing the campus so it discourages large student gatherings while providing better visibility, lighting and advanced surveillance. Check out the slideshow for a few examples from the campus.
Tall shrubs were reduced to a height of no more than four feet, and at the student center, short, wrought iron fences were installed atop curbs that had become a popular place for groups to sit. Additional lighting was installed throughout the campus, and more than 250 security cameras were added.
The campus police department transitioned from a 50-50 ratio of officers-to-unarmed guards to having a majority of its force be licensed police officers. The department increased its manpower and added two positions for monitoring security cameras.
Sturdy steel tables and benches replaced old wooden ones; flashing crosswalks were established at key points on public streets; and new sidewalks were installed.
A student and employee identification policy was implemented, requiring all employees, board members and students to wear an identity lanyard at all times while on campus. A police substation was added to the student center to offer students the opportunity to obtain a day pass if they failed to bring their identity lanyard to campus. Part-time campus ambassadors were hired and positioned across campus to greet visitors, ensure that students and employees were wearing identity lanyards and provide a day pass for those who were not in compliance with the identity policy.
“We were concerned that we would get pushback, and we did, but when we explained to our faculty members that the intent was so that we knew who was on our campus – so that we could discourage people from coming on campus who have no educational purpose – they understood,” says Dr. Tom Johnson, assistant vice president for student affairs.
At the request of the student senate, the college adopted a no-smoking policy and later enhanced the policy to include electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Signage was added to each parking lot to identify each as a student lot or employee lot, with a numbering system that makes reporting suspicious behavior easier.
An anonymous text tip number was established so that students and employees could report crime or suspicious behavior without revealing their identity; a new ID sticker system was implemented so that ambassadors could verify that students with lanyards are enrolled in the current semester.
No-smoking and police signs were installed throughout campus to remind students to follow the rules; an interagency agreement was signed between TJC Police and Tyler Police, strengthening the relationship and communication between the two agencies; and a behavioral intervention team was established to provide members with information about how to intervene when a student or employee is dealing with depression or anger.
“Being a part of the civility task force has been very exciting and has reinforced the importance of safety on our campus,” says Cyndi Gaddis, TJC professor of learning framework. “I appreciate the collaboration of various departments from across campus that are willing to solve problems and concerns in an efficient and timely manner. In order for learning to take place, students, faculty and staff need to feel secure. This committee helps address these issues, and I am proud to be a part of it.”
To strengthen TJC police officers’ knowledge and response in the event of an active shooter situation, the Tyler FBI office conducts active shooter training on the main campus each year, working with TJC Police and the Tyler PD SWAT team.
TJC Police officers are now more likely to be on foot, riding a motorized bicycle or a scooter than they are to be in a squad car, increasing presence on campus and reducing response times.
“We want to provide an environment that is civil, safe and conducive to learning,” Johnson says. “When the environment is not civil, learning cannot take place. It’s that simple.”
Fred M. Peters, M.S. is TJC’s director of public affairs and grant development.