Front and Centre
By Michelle MorraNews campus humber york university
Is there such a thing as too much security? That’s always a consideration in an environment where thousands of students and faculty are supposed to feel free to learn, research, work and feel at home.
Call it evolution or call it regression, but campus security threats
have graduated to a whole new level. In the aftermath of recent
incidents including the sexual assault at gunpoint of a woman near York
University and the shooting at Dawson College in Montreal, where 19
people were injured and one woman was killed by a lone gunman, the idea
of “perceived threat” conjures up much more than it might have a decade
That’s why campuses are investing a lot of time and money to revamp
their technologies, partnerships and public relations.
If maintaining security for thousands of students and faculy is a
challenge, it’s also an advantage, says Gary Jeynes, director, public
safety, at Humber College in Toronto.
“I’ve got 18,000 pairs of eyes,” says Jeynes, who encourages his team
to meet and greet the students, talk to them, and above all, smile. He
believes in being accessible and approachable, and that the key to
leveraging those numbers is to think about security in a new way: No
more surreptitious private-eye approach. No more secrets.
“I think the worst mistake a department can make is hide things,” says
Jeynes. “The more students know about what we do, the better we are.
We’re not shy about this.”
In recent years, Humber’s security department has installed over half a
million dollars in CCTV equipment, which Jeynes says has been a great
tool for crime prevention and awareness.
“We’ve taken the position that we want to go very public with it,” he
says. “So if the bad guy is reading this, I want them to know that, if
they’re on the campus they run the risk of being photographed.”
Jeynes’ department also has a strong partnership with the Toronto
police, another security tactic that’s by no means a secret. Humber has
a Toronto police office on site, complete with logo on the door. The
police are on site on a very regular basis, says Jeynes.
students to interact with them. Our feedback is that students love
this, and employees love to see a police officer walking around the
campus. Years ago it might have been a signal that something’s wrong,
but now it makes them feel good. It’s an extra level of protection.”
Rod Curran, director of community safety and security at Wilfrid
Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. says the police often come in for
tours on Sundays when they’re less busy. He also makes sure the police
know how to get around the campus and have floor plans for the
buildings, as well as a copy of the university’s emergency plan.
Wilfrid Laurier is the first university in Canada to have a student
neighbourhood watch program.
Curran, who is also the president of the Ontario Association of College
and Universities Security Administrators and a retired police officer,
is impressed with how quickly the police acted in the Dawson shooting
“If this had happened about 10 years ago, the police
department would have set up a command post and waited for the tactical
team to come in,” he says. “Now the first officers have active shooting
training, and they’ll go in and try to take out the shooter. They don’t
wait around anymore. At Dawson they went right in.”
Jeynes says campuses that don’t have a good relationship with the
police are missing out on a good resource.
“Even invite the police
superintendent over for a cup of coffee,” he says, “and just find out
what they can do for you and what you can do for them.”
Though pleased with the work of his team and the support they receive
from students and faculty, Jeynes says he still has to work daily at
promoting security services and getting buy-in. Humber’s Campus Walk
program, for example, only gets about two or three calls a day from
students needing to be escorted from point A to point B.
news and bad news,” says Jeynes. “When you look at Humber’s population,
the average in an academic year is about 25,000 people. So the
questions is, is everyone feeling okay on the campus, or are we not
doing a good job in publicizing the service?”
Jeynes recently put a big push on publicizing the Campus Walk service.
A big believer in public relations, Jeynes promotes Humber’s security
services by talking to students and faculty, giving handouts to
students, and drawing as many as possible to the security department’s
comprehensive, interactive website.
He further publicizes campus security when he meets the parents each
“I put on a classroom session for them,” says Jeynes, “then I
take them for a walk. I let them play with the cameras and press the
buttons on the phone and camera system. And then I give them all my
When former RCMP officer Jean Brisebois was hired in 2001 as Concordia
University’s director of security, the university had limited security
technology. Brisebois conducted an in-depth analysis of the situation
and made 102 recommendations. “Naturally a recommendation means money,”
says Brisebois, “but I convinced the university to do these within five
It happened even sooner than that, after a student
demonstration and subsequent conflicts put the kybosh on a planned
visit from then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Within three
years, Concordia had installed digital cameras and digital recording,
created an operational control centre with professional dispatchers
open 24/7, and set up security desks in various areas of the
Thousands of dollars in security equipment and a great
rapport with people will go far in protecting campuses from security
threats, but the work never stops. In an industry that’s all about
expecting the unexpected, there’s no substitute for ongoing drills.
Brisebois compares his team to an NHL hockey team.
“If they practise every day, I think we should do the same,” he says.
“This morning, someone called and said they smelled gas in one of our
new buildings. I’m telling you, if we don’t know what to do in a case
like that, we might find ourselves with big problems. If you practise a
play in hockey, you practise doing some kind of pass to someone who’s
close to the net, then one day during the game you’ll do exactly the
same thing and the guy will score. It’s exactly the same thing.
Brisebois says there are 160 countries represented in Concordia’s
“We have to be aware of the different cultures,
through these students, and we’ve had to inform and train our people to
deal with that. When something happens in the Middle East, for example,
most of the time there will be some kind of reaction on the part of our
students in the following weeks.” Drawing the line
The challenge for any campus is to strike a balance between people
feeling safe and also feeling free to do their mission to learn,
research and work.
But Brisebois has noticed that people demand more
security, not less. “They ask for security.”
“The university is bigger than 95 per cent of the municipalities in
Quebec,” he says. “Also, at our downtown Sir George William campus,
we’re facing the same situations as any other citizens in the downtown
area. Homeless people, street gangs, theft. We’re part of this
community and we’re victims of almost the same things.”
Michelle Morra is a Toronto-based freelance writer.
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