Entrance to Campus Safety. Photo courtesy of Jamie Suarez.

Screams and gunshots echoed on a cold, early winter afternoon as two gunmen made their way into the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket on Dec. 10th 2019, killing multiple people — turning a day full of joy and excitement for the holidays into a deadly massacre. 

Blocks away from the crime scene, Saint Peter’s University was on lockdown. The students were not getting any updates about the nature of the crime that had just occurred.

“I remember how scared we all were when the shooting against the Jewish people happened,” said Aeshwari Tillack. “I was in the STEM center with my friend and we couldn’t leave until it was safe. We were there for about two hours, and we weren’t getting any updates,” she said.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, nearly 600 mass shootings have occurred in the United States in 2022. With their news feeds filled with what seems like a constant alert of shootings, some students at Saint Peter’s University say they feel unsafe.

A student who wished to remain anonymous called Campus Safety a joke, saying that anyone is able to walk in and that no one asks questions as to who enters the building. 

The student said security is also lax. They said that they, along with others, have snuck people who are non-enrolled inside campus buildings. “They walk past security or through a door with an ID checker everytime,” they said. 

Others feel differently.

Kayla Montañez, a business major graduate, never feared for her safety on campus, given that an ID is required to enter the buildings. However, she believes that more security should be in place to ensure safety. 

“I think SPU could even come up with a short video class to talk about the certain actions that should be done in case, God forbid, an active shooter enters the school,” said Montañez.

Tillack also believes the school should be doing more.

“I just feel unprepared because the school never had a drill or has even informed students on what to do in a situation like that,” said Tillack.

Shannell Butler, a junior, doesn’t believe the school is prepared, since she’s never seen any events or emails regarding preventing a mass shooting. She said she’s unaware of where the school’s “safe zones” are, if there are any. Butler believes that by having assemblies and briefings, it can help prepare for any gun-related violence in Jersey City. 

The faculty at Saint Peter’s hold a different perspective than their students. Dr. Brian L. Royster, a criminal justice professor, said that no university can fully prepare for a mass shooting. However, he said that practicing drills will assist students and staff on how to evacuate in a timely and orderly manner.

Royster also expressed how having open conversations with students regarding their perspectives is essential to assist in identifying potential individuals who may be of concern. 

“My colleagues and I are former practitioners preparing our students to be well-grounded in criminal justice or law enforcement. We understand that being a police officer is not for everyone, so we prepare them to be attorneys, probation officers, parole officers, correction officers, etcetera,” he said. 

Scott Torre,  Director of Campus Safety, was hired by the university in 2014 following a 30-year law enforcement career. Ever since then, Torre and his team have been working on making the department become better-equipped to handle crime on campus. 

“The best we can do is train our officers on how to respond to these situations,” said Torre. “Our officers would be first responders in these situations and our armed personnel are trained in active shooter response like all police officers are.”

Torre said a measure of safety used on college campuses is the annual CLERY Report that contains policy statements and statistics for crimes occurring on campus. He feels proud that there hasn’t been any CLERY crimes occurring on campus in the past four years. 

Along with installing nineteen Code Blue emergency towers on campus back in 2016, Torre said that campus safety has also had 350 CCTV cameras for surveillance and OneCard access control on all exterior doors. Additionally, officers continue to routinely take shifts and patrol the campus perimeter. 

“We do provide training for students and employees on how to respond to an active shooter or a dangerous intruder on campus. We are trained in the A.L.I.C.E. model, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate,” Torre added.

Torre said that training has been held with the Jersey City Police Department, Emergency Services Bureau, Hudson County S.W.A.T. team, Jersey City’s Emergency Medical Services and Fire Department. He said that full scale drills have taken place on campus back in 2018 and 2019, but were paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. 

However, Torre said that they are in the planning phase for additional training sessions on campus. 

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