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Carolina begins ‘to rebuild that trust and safety’ across campus

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(The Center Square) – Monday’s shattered security on the Carolina campus gave way to a bit of explanation Tuesday, and a pledge from leadership to regain trust.

The immediate past president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, talking to The Center Square on Tuesday, said the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “handled the situation well.”

Authorities say Tailei Qi, 34, shot and killed Zijie Yan inside a science building. Yan was leader of the Yan Research Group that included Qi, a graduate student in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences. Yan was listed as the suspect’s advisor.

Qi had his first appearance in Orange County District Court on Tuesday. He’s charged with first-degree murder, and having a gun on educational property.

Unknown is the location of the weapon and the motive for the shooting, police say. Known, according to authorities, is that Qi walked into the classroom building, shot Yan and left. The nation’s oldest public university was locked down for several hours, and no other injuries or threats were reported on the flagship campus of the UNC System.

“This shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted on our campus,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote in a letter following Monday’s events. “We will work to rebuild that trust and safety.”

Students scrambled inside dorms, hid in bathrooms and barricaded themselves in classrooms during an hours-long lockdown as law enforcement searched for and eventually apprehended the suspect. Classes remain canceled until Thursday. The iconic Bell Tower will toll in remembrance of Yan on Wednesday, and Guskiewicz encourages everyone to observe a moment of silence.

Students and staff will have time to process what transpired.

Many will confront the reality that the shooting follows student security fees that nearly doubled in 2021 to generate about $13 million for campus security in 2022. Taxpayers and tuition contribute another roughly $80 million annually for UNC System safety departments, which stretches across 17 campuses.

While much of the money flows to campus security, such as officers and equipment, there is sexual violence work, substance abuse and suicide prevention, Title IX compliance and other areas competing for the funding.

John Ojeisekoba, immediate past president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said that while the level of spending can make a difference in preventing school shootings and similar incidents, “it all does not amount to finances and money.”

“We’ve all figured out unless a would-be active shooter tells somebody” about their intentions, “it’s very difficult to detect an active shooter before it begins,” Ojeisekoba said. “There needs to be an avenue for students and employees to report behaviors and that doesn’t cost money. It’s communications.”

Ojeisekoba said a reporting avenue is one of several relatively inexpensive “policies and processes” schools can leverage to prevent tragedy. Others include campus threat assessment teams to assess individuals and “take steps to mitigate situations before they occur,” communications between campus security and local law enforcement, and trainings for students and employees on identifying troublesome behaviors.

“There’s some internal policies and processes that don’t amount to money that need to be put in place,” he said.

School safety funding, however, “is extremely important” for a variety of other factors that can have a big impact, Ojeisekoba said. Those might include arming campus security officers and the training that goes with that, door locking systems, and personnel needed to comply with federal school security reporting regulations.

“The other aspect that ties into financials is a mass notification system, which UNC used effectively yesterday,” he said.

“When we think about the college campus, there’s over a dozen major emergencies that can occur and the planning for each of those emergencies … cost money,” Ojeisekoba said. Dedicating resources for each situation “depends on the campus size, location and what’s a high priority to the campus itself.”

“Even if you have the financial support and the polices and processes in place, the overall support from the campus community and university leadership, that’s very important,” he said.

While “in all situations it’s always a good practice to reevaluate” the approach to campus safety following a shooting or other emergency, “based on the steps (UNC) took … we felt they handled the situation well,” Ojeiskeoba said, adding that UNC is a member of the association, which serves as a think tank for campus security.

“After action reviews … are good even if you feel like you handled the action well,” he said.

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