UPDATE: May 24, 2017, 2:30 p.m. -- The University System of Georgia today provided guidance to all institutions on the implementation of House Bill 280, commonly known as the "campus carry" legislation. The law goes into effect July 1.
Georgia Tech Police Chief Robert Connolly led a discussion on campus safety and security on May 9 at the Staff Council’s most recent Inform Georgia Tech session.
The presentation provided an overview of the department’s work, recent crime trends, and crime prevention efforts. Questions from attendees included the recent passage of Georgia House Bill 280, which will allow concealed firearms on campus beginning July 1. More information about an implementation plan will be shared in the coming weeks following guidance from the Board of Regents, ensuring that all campuses respond consistently.
At the session, Connolly reassured attendees that GTPD is working with the University System of Georgia (USG) and its 28 member institutions.
“We promise we will continue to make campus safe,” Connolly said.
GTPD offers training on various topics throughout the year, including ethics, defensive tactics, firearms proficiency, criminal procedure, and responding to active shooters. Trainings will be modified to address the presence of firearms on campus. The GTPD force includes seven firearms instructors, who have experience working with the student Marksmanship Club and ROTC groups.
More information will be shared in the future at police.gatech.edu/campuscarry.
Beyond the subject of campus carry, Connolly shared an overview of how the department tracks and prevents crime. Overall, campus crime has trended downward since 2009 when crime was up both on campus and in surrounding areas.
“Our biggest concern right now is bicycle theft,” Connolly said, noting that seven bikes had been stolen recently that were not locked at all. GTPD encourages all campus cyclists to use U-locks and secure their bikes any time they are unattended.
Another concern is students falling victim to fraud. In the past week, two students were victims of scam artists who extorted money, pretending they were collecting IRS payments.
“We’re seeing more of this and are going to do more education next year on fraud,” Connolly said.
Connolly also covered the topic of Clery Act safety alerts, of which there have only been two so far this year. Clery Act alerts are issued as timely warnings when a crime has been committed of a violent or hazardous nature that may pose a serious or ongoing threat to members of the community. Eighty percent of Tech’s Clery alerts are issued at night, and around two-thirds take place off campus but are reported as part of an extended boundary GTPD has determined for campus safety.
In recent years, GTPD has focused on two areas of technology to enhance its policing: cameras and social media. The campus is now monitored by 1,700 cameras, more than 50 of which are at street level. GTPD headquarters has a control room with screens and stations that can jump between vantage points and zoom in on areas as needed.
“The goal is that if you commit a crime on campus, you don’t get off campus without us spotting you,” Connolly said.
With regard to social media, the department uses Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit to engage with the community. Twitter is used primarily for quick updates as things are happening, while Instagram shares more about campus life and ongoing GTPD work. A separate Instagram account follows GTPD’s K-9 unit members, Koda and Miley. GTPD recently won the Top Cop Award at the Social Media, the Internet, and Law Enforcement Conference for innovative use of social media.
Reddit has provided opportunities for students to share information anonymously with officers, as well as for GTPD to intervene in potential instances of self-harm. Officers are trained in the Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training provided by the Georgia Tech Counseling Center.
“We’ve been able to use our QPR training to talk students down and point them to resources where they can get help,” Connolly said.
Officers also engage with communities beyond campus. GTPD recently began participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters and has 21 officers (of 86 total GTPD officers) volunteering as “Bigs in Blue” with young people in the West End and English Avenue neighborhoods.
Crime Prevention Officer Jessica Howard discussed other community engagement initiatives, reminding attendees that they can request educational classes on a variety of topics through the Crime Prevention Unit. To request a class or learn more about Tech’s safety and security efforts, visit police.gatech.edu.