Library gun scares spur student safety brainstorms

GSUPD Maj. Anthony Coleman says the library is now bugged with hidden cameras. Photo by Sean Keenan | The Signal



In the midst of campus-wide tensions over student safety, university officials, student politicians and Panthers alike have been crowding auditoriums to spitball ways to tighten school security.

On Jan. 14, hours after two armed robberies inside Library North rattled the student body, University President Mark Becker enacted a firewall of security precautions to strengthen surveillance tech and beef-up campus police presence.

Becker’s plan also called for a string of panel discussions on the topic of campus safety reform to gauge the needs of students. During the first of which, Georgia State Police Deputy Chief Lt. Carlton Mullis, Vice President of Student Affairs Douglass Covey and Becker fielded questions and concerns from students, media, and others.

During that Thursday morning townhall meeting, Becker told students that metal detectors — or the tentatively discussed ‘gun detectors’ — will not be the first course of action to better protect students in the library.

In fact, Mullis said the presence of the allegedly-involved guns from the library incidents had never been confirmed by police or surveillance cameras. Plus, Becker said he — and most students — don’t want to clog the funnel of people filing into the library with “TSA-like” security measures.

GSUPD Maj. Anthony Coleman told a crowd at the Student Government Association’s (SGA) State of the Student Body address that Thursday evening, that the police department had just installed a network of ‘spy cams’ within library corridors in an effort to combat crime.

Coleman would not tell The Signal exactly how the camera system works — whether it records or just streams footage — saying only, “it does a little this, a little that.”

At the morning town hall meeting, Becker suggested the campus could weigh the option of installing biometric scanners for entry to some school facilities.

And when it comes to the promise of “doubling” police presence on campus, Becker said, students needn’t fear for their fees.

“Tuition and housing fees will not go up,” he said. “[For now] they’ll be working overtime and reassigning officers to different patrols. But the reality is, we’ll need to make cuts somewhere so it’s sustainable.”

Coleman said GSUPD now has about 27 cops patrolling the streets, whereas there were 12 prior to Jan. 14. And the department now rolls out 12 squad cars at a time, rather than six.

Odd hours at the library

For roughly four years SGA officials have striven to offer Georgia State students 24-hour study space in the library, and SGA President Sebastian Parra said funds have been secured to
implement such an option.

“We have the green light to go ahead an move on this,” he said. “It’s just a matter of execution. We hope to be able to finish the project by the end of the semester.”

But some student politicos think the safety issues need further assessment for a sustainable plan to exist.

“In light of the recent spike in criminal activity, I think that if we’re going to pursue the long-time goal of having a 24-hour study space, we need to make sure we thoroughly evaluate how we protect that space,” said David Jackson, SGA VP of Academic Affairs.

But Jackson isn’t so concerned with the library’s internal happenings as he is with its entrance procedures.

“I’m more concerned with who gets in and with what,” he said.

Surprise rabble-rousing

Still, among contention over how to best outfit the school to curb crime, Thursday’s Q&A with Becker and friends was not met without protest.

A cohort of students staunchly opposed to laws enacted in 2011 by the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents arose during the public forum to raise their fists in unity against a ban that keeps undocumented students from enrolling in the state’s top five universities.

Their claim — allegations that the university and its police force are racially discriminating against some students — was met with requests from Mullis and Becker for formal documentation of their concerns.

“People are welcome to express their opinions in a lawful manner,” Mullis told The Signal after the town hall. “That’s actually covered by the constitution. I think that was a bit disruptive and it distracted other people from trying to get their point across, but this is the United States of America.”

Victor Morales, an organizer and former FU student who claimed he was unable to enroll at Georgia State due to his undocumented status, said this protest was a necessary distraction from the event’s main itinerary.

“I would have loved to attend such a prestigious institution,” he said. “Maybe it was disruptive, but it was a necessary action. They don’t listen when we leave comments and send emails.”

Hunting for that perp

Coleman said Thursday night that new information had come to light regarding the search for the Jan. 14 perpetrator. Scouring the library for tips, he said, has proven fruitful.

“The first suspect was arrested shortly after the robbery took place,” he said of the armed robbery in the library in December. “In talking with students at the library, we’ve picked up more leads.”

And Mullis told students that morning that GSUPD had recently teamed up with Crime Stoppers to offer a $2,000 reward for information pertaining to the Jan. 14 cases.