Conn, Brinkman and CPD respond to student concerns regarding sexual assault incident
On Oct. 7 an incident of sexual assault occurred at the Mayfield Annex. Lee Clarion held individual interviews with Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn, Director of Campus Security Matthew Brinkman and Cleveland Police spokeswoman Sgt. Evie West to provide answers to student concerns in the wake of the incident. In some cases, they were asked similar questions. Those answers have been placed together below.
Q: Are you able to answer the question if we know how the assailant got into the building?
Brinkman: We do not. We have inquired to the police department at this time. Apparently that’s a portion of their investigation that they are not wanting to state at this point, which is fine. I’m sure we’ll find out soon. According to our logs, the building was locked down. That’s something we’ll be looking at as well, once we hear back from [CPD]. … We have not seen any visible indication something was broken for him to get in at this point.
West: No. … From what I understand there was no surveillance footage, so it would be by the admission of the young man.
Q: There were some security concerns last year, with Mayfield as well, with some vandalism and theft. Were there any adjustments that were made at that point to the way the building was secured or the way Campus Security kept an eye on it?
Brinkman: Sure, there were some door locks that were replaced that had been causing issues. There were some windows [replaced] as well. … We also increased patrolling in that area, so there are a lot of nights where we would bring in additional officers to patrol that section—not just Mayfield itself, but that section of campus as well.
Q: Regarding the email sent out [Oct. 8] where you outlined the three-part emphasis that you and, I’m guessing, the rest of administration have—first part concerning support for the victim, second part concerning security, and the third part looking at other options for security—can you tell me…what exactly that looks like now, going forward?
Conn: We are doing everything we can to support the victim, and there’s a fine line between protecting a victim’s privacy and being publicly and visibly supportive of her. We’re trying to support her every way possible.
The second point I actually made in the email was [that] we wanted to help law enforcement catch the assailant. … They have made an arrest and have charged an individual who they believe to be the person who did this. … It’s in the hands of law enforcement of course now, and we’re eager to follow those developments.
Thirdly, we’re trying to decide how we can best avoid similar situations by new approaches to campus safety in a general way, and that process is ongoing. … I asked students to email us if they have ideas or suggestions, and we’ve gotten lots of emails. … We’re compiling all those ideas—a lot of different ideas, a lot of perspectives on this. We want to hear from students, as far as that’s concerned faculty also, several of whom have joined the conversation. Then we want to talk to the local police chief and have met with him to talk about greater cooperation and increased presence from the Cleveland Police Department. They are very eager to provide increased support.
We are going to go beyond the local police department, and we’ve sought a consulting arrangement with some company that provides security for institutional settings and might provide us with a more professional and more experienced look at our campus. … We’re going to do a wall-to-wall review and let some fresh eyes that are more experienced and know how to create more secure campuses help us decide what our steps going forward should be.
Q: What security measures, exactly, are going to be taken in response? Will there be security cameras, more lights, emergency call boxes like are at Chatt State and some other state universities? Can you share right now any specifics that are being taken into consideration?
Conn: Those are fairly obvious suggestions. Those suggestions have been made by students who have been in touch…emergency call boxes, better lighting, more security cameras, especially in parking lots and outside buildings, but also inside buildings. Those three come to mind fairly regularly.
In addition to that, we’ve had suggestions that we have just a generally larger presence and add personnel to our security force and that we perhaps contract with outside vendors or outside agencies to provide subcontracted security.
Another thing that has been suggested by several people and that we will look at…and will be a subject of our conversations we are having the next few days is the question of whether our campus security officers, or some of them, should be armed. … Honestly, I’m open, and I want to hear all the intelligent perspectives on this. … There are extreme voices on both sides of this question, but I think this is a question that should be on the table, and I put it back on the table this week.
Q: Regarding key card access and cameras, was that already being considered for Mayfield [before the incident], or is that a new consideration on the list? Other security measures?
Brinkman: The discussion had come up about key card access. The thing with key card access is there’s a lot of infrastructure that has got to go into it, so it’s typically very difficult to put in old buildings, and that’s why you’ll see a lot of your older buildings here on campus don’t have it because the cost is just…very high to implement. You have to make sure you have a certain internet line going to it. They have to install the system as well.
There had been [previous] discussion back and forth on whether or not it was a good idea to put key card access or just to keep the building locked down, and then we would let people in that were based off the list. Previously, protocol is for Mayfield to stay locked, only allowing students who were on an approved list to be given access to the building after hours. Now it is in play to do that.
However, something like that is not going to keep someone out any more than a locked door would. It’s just going to make it easier for students to get into a locked building. With a key card, it’s locked down like the dorms are. You swipe to get in, and as soon as the door shuts, it’s locked down. So it’s kind of just a safeguard there.
One of the big things that we’re working on right now is installing cameras. The ultimate goal is to have cameras covering every inch of the property so anybody who sets foot on Lee property will be under video surveillance.
Phase one was 18 cameras, which covered multiple buildings which we had installed a couple years back. Since then, we’ve been tweaking the cameras. It’s not as simple as putting an interior camera up inside a building and letting it video. Exterior cameras are very costly. We have to learn what kind of cameras we need, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth with the company as far as, "This camera worked. This one didn’t. We need this upgraded."
There’s also an enormous software package that comes with it. They have things that run the cameras called analytics. It’s actually very impressive. What it does is it looks for abnormalities in the video settings. What it does is it can identify people versus animals. If it sees a person walk up to a car door and not get into the car and walk away quickly, the algorithm will recognize that, and it will make sure that it focuses on that and sends an alert, so it flags it for us. There’s all different things we’re looking at to implement.
We had a software company that came out this summer that has started phase two for us, which is a big section of the south end of campus, so this is something that is definitely in play right now.
We’re actually going to have [a software company] come out and go ahead and do a quote for Mayfield as well to put that in there. That is one key thing that would really help us—being able to go back with cameras and see. … Cameras don’t necessarily deter crime, but they help solve crime.
The second part of that is our department has to make sure we’re patrolling 100 percent of the time. What makes us different from a traditional security department is the officers don’t stay here in the office and go handle calls, or they don’t stay stationary in a building. They patrol around campus the same way a police department patrols around the city.
Q: What is [Lee’s] procedure to differentiate between an emergency notification and a security notification?
Brinkman: Typically your emergency notification we define as something that presents a danger to the campus community or a threat. So with an emergency notification, it’s something we want to try and get out as quickly as possible.
We don’t have to have all of the facts to it, but we want to make sure we have enough that we don’t create hysteria on a false call. And so with something like this, when you have an attempted assault or a sexual assault…it could be anything where the suspect may not be caught, or again it poses a potential threat or danger to the campus community, and we want to make sure we send that alert out.
With a security alert, that could be something different, such as, “Hey, we’ve had multiple break-ins at this location. Still don’t have the suspect caught. Be aware of your surroundings, or lock your doors.” Things like that, so it’s on a much lower scale, but you want to get the information out.
Q: You mentioned you try to get some information, but you don’t necessarily have to have all of the information. We had some questions about why it came so late in the day. Do you have any comment on that?
Brinkman: By the time the information was relayed to me, CPD had showed up at the same time that Campus Security had, so we had limited information. We knew what the call was, but we were not able to interview the victim.
Once CPD showed up, they started their protocol as far as what they do for a sexual assault victim, so a lot of the information we were gathering was from overhearing them speak. I was in touch with the administration as far as what was going on, and we were trying to grasp exactly what was happening and what was occurring before we sent something mass out like that.
Once we realized, “Hey, this is exactly what it is, suspect is still at large, we don’t have a lot of information,” the administration made the decision—yes, we want to be sure we notify the campus community of it.
Conn: There’s a balance to be struck here, and the notification is not just to tell students about something bad that happened but to warn students of an imminent threat. So these are things to perhaps look clearer in retrospect. … I think [Dr. Mike Hayes and Brinkman] responded in a responsible way. … Once again, there’s a balance to be struck here, and these [alerts] must be done responsibly.
Q: We know, as part of the Clery Act and regular practice, there’s a crime log, which is available on the website. How often is that updated?
Brinkman: It has to be updated in two days of the crime. There are certain expectations to that. An exception may be, if posting the incident on the crime log would jeopardize the investigation, then typically it will not be posted until the investigation—that part of the investigation—has concluded.
We try our best to do it within two days. Right now, we’re operating a little longer than that, but that’s just due to a brand new software program the university has purchased. We’re still working with IT on when we enter it into the computer, then it pulls that data out nightly and puts it into that log. We’re still pretty close, but we’re still fine-tuning the details.
The software went live right before fall semester began.
Q: Many of our buildings are open for other events or other people. Is Mayfield open for other things? For example, is the basketball court open for the community to use?
Brinkman: Mayfield is open for all kinds of different events, classes, meetings, things like that and sports events. I don’t have an idea right now as to what all occurs in there. Typically, we get a list of everything that occurs and who needs access into the building.
Q: Would those just be Lee [related] things or also community things?
Brinkman: Typically, Lee. If there are community events, I’m not aware of them.
Q: What would you say in response to students who now say they don’t feel safe on campus anymore?
Brinkman: One thing that Lee does pride itself on is it is a safe campus. If you pull our crime statistics and you look at other universities, you would see our crime statistics are much lower, especially in the area of violent crimes. … My encouragement to them would be it’s [really] easy after an incident occurs like this to see how well it hits home, and we all see how vulnerable we really are. Unfortunately, Lee is not immune to these types of crimes. But what we can do is, as a campus, we can come together and all work together for the greater good.
If students see something they feel is out of the ordinary…give us a call. We’ll go out. We’ll identify them. We’ll speak to them. If we have any issues, we’ll get PD to come and handle it.
Evie West on the apprehension of the suspect and working alongside Campus Security:
I do want to say we are very grateful for the assistance…from campus security and Matt Brinkman. It really flowed together really well, and I was really glad that the suspect was caught so quickly, which came into a tip to Matt Brinkman, which was a really great thing for him. They were able to locate [the suspect]. A patrol officer knew him, and he knew where to go look for him. So once we found out who he was, that officer knew who he was because he had dealt with him before and went and searched the areas that he frequented, and that’s when he found him.
It was a quick identification, location and apprehension of the suspect, and I’m glad that he’s being charged, but I hate that it happened to her. I really hate that.