Wilkes working to assess campus safety in the wake of violence

Christine Lee, News Editor

Public Safety has undergone an assessment of their services by an outside campus security firm. This comes in the wake of an armed robbery and assault on campus.

On the night of Jan. 22, a male undergraduate student was robbed and assaulted in an armed robbery in front of Waller Hall. According to Public Safety, the victim was approached by assailants riding in a white sedan.

Wilkes-Barre police confirmed that the car involved in the incident was the same one involved in a similar incident on Old River Road in Wilkes-Barre earlier that evening. Wilkes-Barre police are questioning three suspects about possible involvement in multiple incidents, including the one that occurred on campus. City spokespeople would not comment on whether these suspects are directly involved in the incident that occurred on campus.

An assessment by the firm Margolis Healy & Associates looked into Public Safety’s response to this and other incidents of crime. The firm

examined all the paperwork done in the last three years in accordance with the Cleary Act.

Some of the other things the firm looked at included whether Public Safety has been following the guidelines, whether they have the correct operating procedures and communications students, faculty and staff to get their intake on how Public Safety is operating and interviewing officers and members of the administration, including the campus president.

As part of this assessment,  an open forum for students, faculty and staff was held last week in the Miller Room to get the campus intake on how Public Safety is doing.

Both Vice President of Student Affairs Paul Adams and Public Safety manager Jerry Rebo emphasize that the campus is safe. Rebo said that he believes Wilkes is one of the safest campuses in the area.

“It’s one of the safest universities, I would say, in the area,” Rebo said. “That’s one thing we always train and instill in our officers is safety is the utmost.”

However, Adams said Wilkes is not immune to the activities in the surrounding area.

Campus security has also been called into question in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In an email to the campus community sent on Dec. 17, President Patrick Leahy affirmed, in part that “all of us at Wilkes are deeply committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of the students entrusted to our care, as well as our faculty and staff. The university continues to review its safety procedures to make sure that we are doing our utmost to ensure that safety.”

Adams explained that in an effort to prevent violence like that at Sandy Hook, Student Affairs meets every Friday morning for case review, which is an opportunity for members of Student Affairs to discuss students who over the course of the last week or last few weeks have been challenged by particular circumstances of varying natures.

“That really gives us a chance to talk about and monitor and really keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on and I think it’s very much a proactive group so that we can put things in place to help young people be successful here,” Adams said. “I think that’s been wonderfully worthwhile.”

According to Rebo, Public Safety’s responsibility if an incident like the Newtown shooting is gathering information, getting students, faculty and staff to safety, locking down buildings and contacting the Wilkes-Barre police.

“One thing we have in our favor is that we’re only a block and a half away from the police department,” Rebo said. “The basic thing is to lock down, get our campus community to safe locations.”

Public Safety officer Kenneth Lukasavage, a former Wilkes-Barre police officer explains the relationship between the Wilkes-Barre police and Wilkes is “excellent.” He said the response from the police in the event of a shooting would be immediate and the officers would arrive on scene and locate the shooter.

Steve Healy, a partner in Margolis Healy & Associates, was optimistic about the assessment done last week.

“My overall impression is that the university is committed 100 percent to the safety and security of the university community and there are always opportunities to improve,” Healy said.

Wilkes’ latest crime statistics can be found here