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Crist signs order to study campus safety

A task force will discuss ways to identify students who pose a risk and emergency notification.

By STEVE BOUSQUET and ASJYLYN LODER
Published May 1, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Two weeks after the massacre at Virginia Tech, Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order calling for a study of safety and security at Florida's 11 state university campuses.

Crist acted on a day in which he met with Mike Leavitt, President Bush's secretary of health and human services, who is traveling around the country seeking ideas from state leaders.

"This is not a meeting about reaching conclusions, " Leavitt said Monday, seated with Crist in the Governor's Office. "What are the topics we need to discuss? How do we assure that our communities are safe?"

Crist's order creates a seven-member task force, headed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. The group will discuss how to identify students who pose a risk and look at ways to notify students of an emergency. Crist gave the task force until May 24 to report its findings.

"The framework definitely shifts after Virginia Tech, " said Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of the state university system. "What we have to do is strike a balance between individual freedom and liberty, and ensuring the sons and daughters of Floridians that their families are safe."

Ironically, the Legislature refused to provide $3.5-million in security enhancements requested by the university system, according to state higher education spokesman Bill Edmonds. The money would have funded emergency alert systems and increased police officers at the 11 state institutions.

Some universities are already moving ahead to make their campuses safer.

Cpl. Jim Roop, a spokesman for the University of Central Florida's police department, said UCF had been studying ways to notify students of weather emergencies. Then Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members in Blacksburg, Va., on April 16, and that alert system vaulted to the top of UCF's safety efforts.

Like other campuses, UCF is looking at e-mail alerts, reverse 911 systems, including text messages, and warning "crawls" that will run across the bottom of campus televisions.

Staffing at university police departments is also under review. During a meeting of campus police chiefs and administrators in Tallahassee last week, it became clear that the officer-student ratios differ from campus to campus.

In the days after the shootings, student task forces sprung up at universities throughout Florida.

Rick Yost, a chemistry professor at the University of Florida and chairman-elect of the faculty senate, said that professors are talking about what they can do to protect themselves and their students.

"We chat with them at the beginning of class about cheating, " Yost said. "You don't talk about this. I'm not sure how you put this on your syllabus."

Frank Harrison, president of student government at the University of South Florida and the statewide Florida Student Association, said he had never contemplated the possibility of such a rampage, but he predicted that it will become a backdrop of student life.

"Our generation has grown up with the Columbine shooting, " Harrison said. "It's something we've grown up with and, in a way, gotten used to."

Staff Writer Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler contributed to this report.