For Morgan, challenge is security vs. openness
Across busy Hillen Road from Morgan State University there stands a worn brick wall.
The aging barrier is a vestige of the era when the school’s mostly white neighbors wanted to keep its black students out of their community.
Now, as Morgan officials discuss ways to improve security after the stabbing deaths of two students off campus this year, they are keeping that history of division in mind. While they discuss adding new barriers to the 143-acre campus in Northeast Baltimore, they say, they are looking to strike a balance: They want to deter intruders without shutting out the city.
“We want to be careful that we are not sending the message to our community that we want to put up a barrier to the public,” said David Wilson, president of the 149-year-old university.
“How do you do that? I don’t know if there is a model out there, but we’re
going to look.”
For campus planners, it’s an age-old challenge: How best to lay out buildings and barriers to keep an academic community safe while maintaining connections and relationship with the surrounding community?
Morgan, which in recent years has expanded its police force and installed hundreds of security cameras, is now considering adding new walls.
Wilson said early plans involve “a gated concept.” He said administrators are considering gates at dorms and weighing whether to extend a decorative stone wall down the western edge of campus.
S. Daniel Carter is a campus security consultant based in Washington.
“Every time you add a layer of security, you’re giving up an aspect of the campus culture where it’s a part of the community,” he said.
Urban universities face the additional responsibility of protecting their students off campus, where most crime happens, according to federal data. It’s a task that has grown more urgent with the rise of school shootings and the continuing threat of terrorism.
In Baltimore, the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray last year and the spike in crime that followed has increased pressure on university presidents to protect their campuses.
Marcus Edwards, a 21-year-old Morgan sophomore from Washington, was found stabbed last month at Loch Raven Boulevard and Woodbourne Avenue, less than a mile from campus.
Edwards died at a local hospital. Police have made no arrests in his death.
Gerald Williams, a 20-year-old Morgan junior from Bowie, was stabbed to death in a fight at the Morgan View, an off-campus apartment complex, in February.
Police have charged Harry Malik Robertson, a 21-year-old former Morgan student from Bowie, with first-degree murder and second-degree murder in Wiliams’ death.
A Baltimore jury awarded $900,000 last month to Tyrell Okoro, a former Morgan football player who sued the university after he was shot several times outside a dormitory in December 2012. Okoro said the university had failed to provide a safe campus for students.
Morgan also settled for $185,000 with another student, Joshua Ceasar, who was beaten on campus in 2012 by a fellow student wielding a barbed wire-wrapped bat. Ceasar was left legally blind.
Adrian Wiggins is executive director of public safety at Morgan. He says there are limits to the university’s ability to keep students safe.
“We don’t police the City of Baltimore,” he said. “We’re challenged because we see these students on the day-to-day basis and they go out in the city.”
Morgan officials plan to hire a consultant to evaluate campus security and recommend improvements.
Universities in Baltimore have tried a variety of approaches to protect students.
Buildings at the University of Baltimore are open to the public during the day but restricted after hours to students and staff members with access cards.
Coppin State University security officials hold town hall meetings to give students and neighbors the opportunity to present security concerns.
“If they trust you enough as a police agency, then you can redesign your patrol strategy around that information,” said former Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, Coppin’s director of public safety.
The Johns Hopkins University overhauled its security more than a decade ago. The university deployed a new closed-circuit television network, added security guards and increased patrols. Students must swipe IDs to enter dorms.
Two undergraduates were killed in their off-campus homes in 2004 and 2005. Hopkins was upgrading security when Christopher Elser and Linda Trinh were killed, spokesman Dennis O’Shea said, but their deaths led the university to pursue the changes with greater urgency.
Morgan State University, with some 7,700 students, reported eight burglaries, five aggravated assaults, three robberies and four rapes to the U.S. Department of Education for 2015.
Morgan has 36 sworn police officers, plus private security guards. The school has installed more than 700 security cameras; they are now being upgraded to record in 360 degrees.
“We have more cameras than most places in the country,” Wiggins said. “We made a significant investment in our security and things have improved over the years.”
State Del. Curt Anderson, a Morgan alumnus who lives near the campus, has noticed. He called for more security after the attacks in 2012.
“I’ve seen all the changes I think they could possibly make,” Anderson said.
Morgan has hired 10 police officers in the past year. Now administrators are considering the barriers to tighten access to campus.
Kim McCalla is Morgan’s associate vice president for facilities and construction.
“When someone says ‘security wall,’ you’re thinking something that’s 12 feet high with barbed wire on it,” she said. “We’re not doing that.
“We’re discussing, really, how best to secure the edges without feeling like we’re walling in Morgan without the rest of the world.”
Security features can be masked as bushes, decorative wrought-iron fences, columns and stone walls.
State Sen. Catherine Pugh, the Democratic nominee for Baltimore mayor, has taken an interest.
“We don’t want it to look like a fortress,” said Pugh, a Morgan alumna. “But we do want people to feel safe.” Wilson pledged any renovations will “be true to the openness of the campus.”
“We never want to send the message to the public that you are not welcome,” he said.
Carter, the security consult, said masked barriers are common on urban campuses. He called it “target-hardening.”
“If walls do go up, you have to make sure the campus still has a robust presence in the community,” he said. “Finding a balance is very important.”
“We want to be careful that we are not sending the message to our community that we want to put up a barrier to the public.”