For Mor­gan, chal­lenge is se­cu­rity vs. open­ness

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Pru­dente

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.”

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