Feature: Public Safety Officers Go Above and Beyond for Campus Community

On some college campuses, the public safety officers just cover the basics; they patrol campus, lock buildings and file reports.

Western Oregon University is not one of those campuses.

The department’s six officers plus Director Rebecca Chiles are not content to do just the minimum. Their particular brand of flair is specialty training, and they take every opportunity to add a new badge to their vest.

“I send people to every bit of training I can. I think it’s important,” Chiles said. “They need to keep skills up to make them better service providers. The more they know, the more they can pass on to our community.”

The most recent addition to several officers’ specialty training repertoire has come in the past few months. Two have attended Forensic Experiential Trauma Interviewing (FETI) sessions, which teach them the neurobiology of the brain and how it reacts after a traumatic event. The training is funded through WOU’s state grant for the prevention of sexual assault on campus, and much of its focus is on helping victims of sexual violence.

“When the body is faced with trauma,” Chiles explains, “the brain goes into this mode and stores things in certain areas of the brain that are not reachable by normal means, as far as extracting those memories. Things come at a difference pace.”

Officers learn that they cannot simply ask trauma victims to explain what happened, because the memory is not retained as a chronological account. Instead, interviewers simply ask what the victim can remember, then use those statements as a way to slowly unravel other fragments of the memory.

“It really gives a deeper insight, especially to folks in our profession,” said Chiles, who is one of the people who have attended the training. Two more are slated to go in December. “When you get ready to sit and talk to somebody, you’re more aware of how the trauma may have affected that person and how they then give that information back to you. Things may not be remembered for a while. There may be missing pieces forever.”

Chiles said officers returning from the training are excited to share what they’ve learned with the rest of the department. She knows it’s working because she sees the terms and phrases taught in the class being included in the officers’ reports.

“We have a lot of resources here on campus around sexual violence and prevention,” Chiles said. “Incoming students have to take an online course, too. Now, our officers are more prepared and know what to expect when they talk to someone who’s been traumatized.”

The 2015-16 academic year presented another training opportunity for Campus Safety, and it all started when Instructor Brent Redpath in the College of Education asked Chiles to present an emergency preparedness session for deaf and hard of hearing members of the faculty. Out of that event, a conversation evolved about communications between deaf and hard of hearing members of campus and the public safety department.

Two concepts resulted. First, Campus Safety dedicated a phone line to receive text messages that appear on a computer screen. A notification sound alerts the staff that assistance is needed, and a response can be sent using the computer keyboard. Second, many members of the department started learning the basics of American Sign Language from two student volunteers.

“We focused just on a quick exchange,” Chiles explained. “We learned signs for hospital, doctor, I locked my keys in the car, that type of thing. Of course, if we were going to go in-depth (about an incident), we’d get an interpreter. Our lessons were just for quick communications.”

At least four officers attended ASL lessons regularly during the school year. Eventually, though, the student teachers graduated. Chiles said she’d like to get the training going again, though she still remembers the signs they learned.

Finally, the third ongoing training opportunity for the department is A.L.I.C.E. instructor training. There are now four certified officers who can teach the protocol used on campus in an active shooter situation. A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, and it’s an alternative to the formerly used Run-Hide-Fight approach or the simple lockdown technique still practiced in many K-12 public schools.

Chiles describes A.L.I.C.E. this way: “It educates and empowers individuals to make their own decisions in order to increase the survivability in an active killer situation. Traditional lockdown drills are outdated and have proven ineffective. A.L.I.C.E-trained individuals can become leaders to overcome indecision in the event of an active killer situation.”

In the past, only one officer was certified to lead training sessions for faculty, staff and students on campus. Now that there are four, Campus Safety can expand its A.L.I.C.E-related sessions; a few months ago, the department invited members of the campus community to try their hand at shooting an armed attacker with Nerf guns when caught by surprise. These advanced lessons would not be possible with non-trained personnel.

“For safety and to have enough bodies to create realistic situations, we needed more participants,” Chiles said. “Now we can learn: How does this work? What scenarios work best?”

The A.L.I.C.E. strategy is gaining ground throughout the nation, with many large university campuses adopting the procedure instead of Run-Hide-Fight. WOU’s Campus Safety department has positioned the campus community into the forefront of this sea change.

“It’s an investment of public safety into the campus,” Chiles said. “You get more people trained and in tune with the idea that this could happen. Even just getting people in that mental preparation that this is real, this could happen here, and ‘I need to think about this’ at the very least. That’s what I think the big difference is.”

A.L.I.C.E. training is just one of the many safety-technique education options the department offers to students. It also hosts self-defense courses each term that are co-sponsored by Campus Recreation. People interested in renewing their first aid and CPR certifications can find classes on campus, and officers routinely speak in residence halls about personal safety and theft prevention.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is a popular one among students and employees. It trains participants to prepare themselves, their families and their neighbors in the event of a major emergency. Trainees learn to how to save lives and protect property in the event that emergency services personnel are not be able to help everyone immediately when there is a significant disaster.

Chiles said the department enjoys a good reputation with students and a rapport with the campus community at large.

“They recognize that we are the public safety enforcement on campus,” she said. “We have a good reputation as being not just enforcers but being people you go to. We’re helpful. We’re the only ones who are on campus 24/7. We have a great reputation as a resource.”

Have you taken advantage of one of the safety training opportunities on campus? We’d like to hear about it!

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