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Virginia Tech shooting: 2007 massacre led to changes nationwide

December 8, 2011 |  1:07 pm

 After the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, colleges and universities around the country improved their emergency notification systems and worked to speed up the reaction time of campus police to a potential shooter on campus, according to Christopher Blake, associate director of the International Assn. of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

Many universities put into place crime warning systems that can go out by cellphone, email, text message and other methods, while bolstering more traditional methods such as sirens and flashing signs and lights at intersections, Blake said Thursday.

“A lot of institutions looked at multiple ways to put out the word to the community,” he said. “Many institutions strengthened their emergency procedures in both hardware and software.”

PHOTOS: Virginia Tech shooting

University police forces have also spent more time developing tactics to deal with the prospect of a gunman on campus seeking to inflict wide-ranging damage. After the 2007 shootings, school police are more aware than ever of “the urgency in getting there and stopping the person,” he said.

One of the most troubling aspects of that incident was how the mentally ill shooter was allowed to remain a student despite previous signs of serious instability. Since then, campuses around the country say they watch their students more closely for signs of possible mental illness or other problems.

They have set up teams of counselors, police and administrators to screen reports about potentially troubled students and to discuss treatment or discipline. And many colleges are prepared to act more quickly than in the past, particularly if there is any explicit warning of violence, college mental health and other experts say.

Many colleges now require a mental health assessment for a troubled student to stay enrolled and more readily expel those who refuse to comply.

Campuses’ responsibility to pay attention to those mental health issues is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a UCLA student who was stabbed and had her throat slashed by a fellow student in a school lab on Oct. 8, 2009.

The victim is suing her assailant and the University of California regents, alleging in part that school officials and faculty did not respond properly to warnings about his potentially violent behavior. UC has denied any liability in the unprovoked attack, which left Katherine Rosen badly wounded and hospitalized for 10 days after surgery.

The Rosen case alleges that, for months before the attack, UCLA officials and professors had received reports of assailant Damon Thompson's “strange, disturbing, erratic, angry, dangerous, threatening and/or paranoid behavior.”

Thompson, who admitted the attack on Rosen, allegedly had threatened teachers based on “his irrational belief that other students had taunted and bullied him” so that he would make mistakes in his chemistry experiments, the suit says. But UCLA failed to warn students about Thompson's potentially violent behavior, the victim contends.

Experts say that the last reported death of a college or university campus police officer was in 2006 when University of Mississippi Officer Robert Langley was fatally injured when he was dragged by a vehicle during a traffic stop near the university campus in Oxford.

Langley had stopped the car's driver, a student, who suddenly sped off and dragged the officer about 200 yards. In 2007, the suspect plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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-- Larry Gordon

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