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Better safe than sorry: Taking a look at UNH’s active shooter protocols

By Mark Kobzik

Staff Writer

Mass shootings across the nation have not escaped the attention of major institutions such as UNH, which have found the need to be realistic about planning for how to deal with a similar event.

“UNH has protocols in place for active shooters and other risks even as those risks are relatively small,” said John T. Kirkpatrick, a professor of sociology at UNH. “Demographics who express the highest fear levels actually have the lowest victimizations levels.”

Oct. 1 marked the seventeenth and most recent campus shooting of 2015. The Umpqua Community College attack ended with the death of 10 people and another nine wounded, making it the deadliest campus shooting of the year.

Yet despite the high visibility of these tragic stories, experts suggest there has not been a statistical increase in frequency of gun violence on college campuses. When asked whether or not there has been a growth in campus gun violence, Kirkpatrick said: 

“No, even as it certainly seems as though there has been. Criminologists are very careful in analyzing possible trends and patterns in offending and victimization. I should think that most criminologists would be reluctant to attest to growth at this time. At the same time, I should think that indeed there has been growth in awareness of gun violence on campus, in part because of the intense media coverage of tragedies when they happen, like the recent one in Oregon.”

This ties in to what UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said when asked whether or not he will be seeking to change protocol or do anything new. 

“Not in the short term,” Dean said. “Once I have had the opportunity to review the lessons learned from the investigation, I will be in a better position to re-assess our safety needs at all our campuses.”

Dean also pointed out UNH has a Behavioral Intervention Team, which monitors students who may be at a risk of severely harming themselves or other people, and recommends psychological assessment if necessary.

While mental illness has played a role in the shootings, experts point out that most people with mental disorders are not violent. 

“There seems to be a pattern of mental health issues among perpetrators,” Kirkpatrick said. “However, it is worth noting that the vast majority of people with mental health disorders do not engage in violence of any kind. That seems to get lost in the current public discourse.”

“Mental illness as a whole is a very broad term. When criminologists or psychologists look at campus shooters they are looking for a confluence of many things,” said Professor Robert Eckstein, a psychology and justice studies instructor. “Profiles of these shooters are created and we see that acute trigger factors can be the defining factor in whether or not they commit the crime.”

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