Scott Pribble’s hands were shaking as he clicked send on an alert about a knife-wielding man in a dorm going out to over 50,000 students and administrators at the University of Colorado Boulder.
It was a nerve-wracking moment for the public information officer, a responsibility that carried a lot of weight, and opened up the university’s police department to criticism for alarming students.
Pribble’s dilemma illustrates one of the key changes to campus security, a profession that has become increasingly complex in recent years. Campus safety jobs and the challenges officers face have been greatly affected due to student attitudes and increased awareness towards technology, sexual and physical assault and campus violence.
College-aged students around the world dread contact with their campus security team for fear of getting caught breaking rules or the law. But for Pribble, head of communication at the University of Colorado Boulder Police Department, helping students stay safe was the plan from the beginning of his career.
Pribble, a former computer science teacher and football coach, had a change of heart after volunteering at a Wichita Fire Department. He decided that working in public safety was what he wanted to do. Twenty years later, Pribble found his way to Boulder.
He now manages communication from the campus police department and is the voice behind the alert system. With a strict character limit, he quickly sends out the best messages he possibly can, even in a high-risk situation.
This fall, an alert, sent from Pribble notified students in Farrand Hall that there was an individual with a knife in the dorm. Kory Calcao, a first-year student thought the message was abrupt.
“It just made the whole night tense and just everyone was on edge,” Calcao said. “Our RA told us to stay in our room but it didn't really help much. I think she was just as confused as we were.”
Pribble says previous extreme events on CU’s campus and on the national level have shaped the way CUPD communicates to students.
“I am the person who pushed the button, so I can tell you it is a very intimidating task,” he said. “Even though I have done it several times, I know what shock waves it’s going to send.”
According to Campus Safety’s article, “How Campus Police Can Help Colleges With Parent Relations,” a cell phone is the world’s largest umbilical cord—connecting students to their parents from across the globe. CUPD argues that in this new technological world, communication between campus safety teams and parents makes can ease the stress parents feel when letting a child move away.
“We have a big job to do,” Pribble said. “Thousands of parents have sent their kids off to school and that is difficult for just about every single one of them. They need us to be here to make sure that you are safe while you’re away.”
Working in campus security is a multifaceted job, with a variety of roles for each staff member. For Pribble’s colleague, CUPD Sergeant Mary Veksay, working with students is a rare form of law enforcement.
“The more I learned about this environment and the more opportunities we have, the more interested I got,” Veksay said. “I really like being able to help people and I think we are in a unique place to do that.”
College-aged students typically have a negative connotation towards campus security due to their newly increased level of freedom. The faculty at CU Boulder try to help bridge that gap. Erin Willis, a CU Faculty in Residence in Buckingham Hall, believes that as a population, students don’t realize that campus security is here for protection.
“I think freshman are some of the most vulnerable students on this campus, especially in regard to alcohol consumption and sexual assault,” she said.
While across the country sexual harassment and assault numbers in college towns are high, the county police department takes the reins on those cases in Boulder. Pribble said that currently, CU’s largest problem is property theft, such as stolen laptops and bikes. He added that, although all problems are serious, CUPD is lucky to have this as their most predominant problem.
“Bike theft is our number one crime on campus and to me that says a lot about the type of culture that we have here,” he said. “We do have physical and sexual assault but they don't occur at the rate that you would think.”
Veksay believes that CUPD has stepped up its connections to students by offering Active Harmor classes to train students what to do in specific situations. On the other hand, Willis said that CUPD could be more successful with students if they put their efforts elsewhere.
“I think that campus security could work more closely with students,” she said. “They need to ask what the campus concerns are and actually put their effort into those concerns.”