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September 27, 2001

Security here tightened, but police confident about safety of campus

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pitt police interim chief Tim Delaney is confident about the security of the campus.

"The systems we have in place are solid. We want to help restore safe feelings on our campus. We want to have people feel they have control in their lives again."

Delaney said he's met with several campus groups to allay fears, first focusing on those who feel most threatened, including the Muslim Student Association and other Islamic organizations, Hindu students and other international groups.

(Delaney is scheduled to address security and safety concerns at an open meeting at 12:15 p.m., Oct. 10, in 2P56 Posvar Hall, sponsored by the Staff Association Council.) "I also met with the Student Government Board and the Rainbow Alliance. There's no question, our students are absolutely concerned," both about security and about protecting all members of the Pitt community regardless of nationality. "What we're asking for is an exchange of information. I told the groups, 'We've heard rumors, but haven't had reports. We want to hear your concerns.'"

One result of the meetings, Delaney said, is providing additional van service for transportation to the surrounding off-campus neighborhoods.

Pitt's police chief said initially he was surprised to learn there was a reluctance among certain students to interact with authority figures, even in times of need. "What they were saying is in their culture they didn't have contact with their government or any forms of authority. It just wasn't done. But we're here to help them, is the message they need to know. I told them, 'You're part of us. We're here, but I'm not hearing anything from you.' "Well, a couple of days [after Sept. 11], a student came forward to report an incident; I think that's progress. A second student came forward [Sept. 19]; that's more progress. Those are the two incidents [involving physical ethnic harassment] we've had [as of Sept. 26], and the Zone 6 Pittsburgh police made an arrest in one of them. We've also had reports of students being stared at. I have to tell them that staring is not a crime, but if it progresses past that, we definitely want to know about it." No ethnic harassing phone calls have been reported, he said.

Delaney said his department has beefed up its visibility in the past two weeks. "There is a heightened sense of alert. We told our officers that while walking the beat — I know it sounds obvious — but be conscious of what's going on. Be more of a presence, especially during class-changing times and in the evenings. Be visible. Be seen. Be aware."

The police will be working with groups that sponsor on-campus events to lay out formal security rules about what can be brought into campus buildings. "We are not separate from society when it comes to security. Requiring groups to use University catering services to safeguard the food is an example. We'll be working with Athletics, developing a program for on-campus sporting events," Delaney said. "While Heinz Field (where Pitt's football team plays) has its own security force, it's up to us to make the rules and enforce the rules for, say, basketball games at Fitzgerald Field House."

(Fans attending events at Heinz Field are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers or large purses into the stadium.) Reflecting on University police actions on Sept. 11, Delaney said, "When we first heard of the incidents, I immediately increased our beat officers." Typically 15 beat officers patrol the campus. Delaney brought in 10 more. He also sent officers to the FBI's 24-hour command center in Pittsburgh and to the county police headquarters to ensure direct lines of communication.

"We're always in contact with the city police. My point is that we have been in daily contact with the federal, county and city police since this began."

Delaney said that Pittsburgh Police Chief John Roundtree is preparing a document to answer frequently asked questions related to security and that Pitt will disseminate the information around campus. "We're part of the city. It makes me feel good that we're always in the loop," he said.

A key decision in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center skyscrapers was whether to evacuate the Cathedral of Learning, the country's tallest academic building. Delaney said he met with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who made the final decision, and Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran to discuss the matter.

"As the morning's events were unfolding, we decided pretty early on that anxiety and fear were inhibiting people's ability to work and study. Some had already gone home on their own. So the chancellor issued a short statement that said, in effect, classes are canceled, the Cathedral should be evacuated and other people should leave if they wanted to."

Delaney said getting the word out that Pitt had closed for the day was important. "We canceled night classes, too. One concern is you don't want people who don't have to coming to campus. So we got the word out: It was similar, you might say, to spreading the word about a snow day closing. We used radio, Audix, press releases, various hotlines.

"Because students were not in class, Residence Life needed to be notified," Delaney said. About 5,000 students live on the Oakland campus.

According to Denine Rocco, director of Residence Life, some students did go home to be with family on Sept. 11. But for those students who stayed on campus, Residence Life staff remained on the job.

"There is a plan in place and we bring it to the forefront for a specific situation like this," Rocco said. "I don't know if, in hindsight, we would have done anything differently. We were proactively talking to students. We had counselors available. We encouraged dialogue. We have had many forums that stress that harassment won't be accepted under any circumstances. We stress that this is a community environment and inclusive and we have community standards. Residence Life is always sensitive to that and to the diversity among our students."

Delaney said that the procedure to gain access to Pitt's dorms is secure. "To get in the dorms you have to swipe in your card and show the I.D. to the security guard," he said. "Visitors have to have a picture I.D. and must be escorted both in and out by a resident student. It's been our policy, it's strictly enforced, and I think it's a good one."

He added that policies for requiring identification for access to Pitt buildings are under development. "We have the swipe cards in Trees Hall and we're going to go to the swipe cards in other buildings, including Clapp-Langley-Crawford." Buildings such as the Cathedral of Learning are open during the day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. without showing I.D.s, but are adequately patrolled, Delaney said.

Rocco acknowledged a heightened sense of awareness and a desire to feel safe among students. "I think people still are trying to make sense of events that have no rhyme or reason. They also may be overloading on feedback from the media.

"In many ways I'm very proud of our students. Student leaders got together organizing vigils and blood drives and donations. Many people are looking to volunteer. They're trying their best to deal with this," Rocco said.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 3

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