College police plan for heightened building security in spring


Photo: Beacon Archives

Emerson College Police Department officer.

The Emerson College Police Department will roll out a series of new procedures this academic year, including changes to building entry policies, pending approval from President M. Lee Pelton. The changes would tighten security on campus, said Chief of Police Robert Smith.

According to Smith, he and the security council — a group of faculty and staff members with one student government association representative — began to review campus security after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December. 

“It started after the school shooting,” said Smith. “But even more so after the Marathon bombings. We needed to reevaluate security so we know who is coming into our buildings.”

The Boston Marathon bombing occurred in April, when two bombs detonated at the finish line of the annual race. The college was placed under lockdown during the scare. 

The most notable proposed change in the plan concerns building entry policies. Currently, when students enter the Ansin Building, Walker Building, or Tufte Performance and Production Center buildings for class, they do not need to show their student identification. But to access the Paramount Center, every student must “tap” — or touch their school-issued ID to a pad — at a checkpoint. The protocol in the Paramount Center is different because there are also dormitories in the building, said Smith. 

Starting in the spring semester, every classroom building may follow the Paramount Center’s procedure, and every person entering might have to show identification. Security will also tighten in dormitory buildings. 

“We don’t have a problem [with delays] in [Paramount] to be honest,” said Smith. “And it will really make a difference as far as security goes.”

Benjamin Halls, the security council’s SGA representative, said he is not pleased with this portion of the changes. He said he feels tapping will take too much time and students will be late to class. 

“I told [President Pelton] it shouldn’t be implemented,” said the senior writing, literature, and publishing major. “One problem with an ID and then no students are getting up the stairs or to class.”

But Smith said he has accounted for potential delays that may occur at the beginning of his plan. 

“We will give students as much information as possible,” said Smith. “The more we give, the greater likelihood it will be successful and not disruptive.” 

In giving students more notice, Smith said he believes that students will be better prepared and have their IDs readily available to quicken the pace of the taps.

Similar changes may come to the dormitory buildings. Smith said he will speak to Pelton in coming weeks about keeping residence hall doors locked in the evening, and adding tapping machines to the exterior of the buildings. Students would then need to use their ID card to open the doors.

“You can still tap in and enter the building,” said Smith. “But we have a lot of very popular nightclubs, and on the weekends students feel like [non-students] congregate in entryways and lobbies.”

An information desk where faculty and staff members can check in guests may be set up in the Little Building lobby. This desk will also provide maps and directions for visitors to the campus, said Smith.

A slight alteration in the check-in procedure for guests to residence halls may be implemented as well. Students may need to sign these guests in at the Securitas desk, rather than with resident assistants.

The school also underwent some technology upgrades over the summer. College building entryways are now wired differently, and can be locked down in seconds from a switch in the police department’s office. 

“During the Marathon bombing, it took us five minutes to get exterior doors shut down, which was good, but now we can be even quicker,” said Smith.

Defibrillator machines have also been installed around campus.

Smith said he was unsure what these upgrades cost, but that Jay Phillips, the associate vice president for facilities and campus services, had the figures. Phillips declined to comment. 

In coming weeks, Smith said he will meet with Pelton to finalize these changes, and said he hopes to complete them as soon as possible, so students can begin to prepare.

Pelton sent an email to students in May, outlining the changes he said were slated for the fall semester. But Smith said he will be on Emerson’s upcoming Los Angeles campus frequently, developing security procedures for the site, which is why he elected to begin the changes in the spring. 

“This is something I want to be around for,” he said. “We need to make sure the change happens as smoothly as possible.”