Temple hosts forum on gun violence, public safety

University and city leaders fielded questions from parents, students and community members in the virtual forum.

Members of Temple University’s administration and officials from the City of Philadelphia discussed gun violence and public safety during the university’s virtual campus safety forum on Dec 2. Panelists answered questions from parents, students and community members about campus safety initiatives. | Colleen Claggett / FILE PHOTO

Members of Temple University’s administration and officials from the City of Philadelphia discussed gun violence and public safety on Thursday evening during the university’s virtual campus safety forum.  

More than 1,400 people attended the forum, which was announced Tuesday evening in President Jason Wingard’s message to the Temple community in light of the fatal shooting of Samuel Collington, a 21-year old senior political science major, on Sunday afternoon, The Temple News reported.

The panel was originally scheduled for 5 p.m. but was moved to 7 p.m. in response to concerns that the time conflicted with a vigil being held by Collington’s family at his Interboro High School, his alma mater in Prospect Park, Pennsylvania. 

The university did not intentionally schedule the forum at the same time as the vigil and initially planned the event as an open forum for Temple parents, wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson, in an email to The Temple News on Wednesday afternoon. 

“The event has since evolved, and it has become clear that students also have an interest in attending the forum,” Orbanek wrote.

Panelists answered questions from parents, students and community members about campus safety initiatives. 

The panelists included Wingard, Charles Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services and Nashid Akil, Captain of Philadelphia’s 22nd Police District. Other panelists include Stephanie Ives, associate vice president and dean of students, and Erica Atwood, senior director at the Philadelphia Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public safety. 

Attendees submitted more than 700 questions prior to the forum about on-campus and off-campus safety concerns and proposed university safety changes.

Lu Ann Cahn, director for career services at Klein College of Media and Communication, moderated the forum that was opened with statements from Wingard. 

“Gun violence is an epidemic in this country and we find ourselves consistently mourning the tragic and senseless loss of lives from coast to coast,” Wingard said. “Here in Philadelphia, we’re dealing with an unprecedented number of homicides.”

Here’s what was discussed at the forum:

POLICING

Wingard announced Temple will increase Campus Safety Services’ force by 50 percent and work with the Philadelphia Police Department to increase off-campus patrol in an announcement on Nov. 30, The Temple News Reported. 

An additional 40 police officers would need to be hired to meet this quota, Leone said when asked about the increase. 

Temple University Police Department is currently hiring additional police officers and will continue to hire officers throughout the year, Leone said. An end date for the hiring process was not provided.  

Philadelphia’s 22nd District will have an academy class graduate in January of 2022, which will lead to an increase in police presence in the university community, Akil said. 

TUPD will increase current patrol hours to meet the demands of the police expansion and will reevaluate their salary structure and job initiatives to make their workforce competitive, Leone said. 

When asked about a relaxed police presence on campus, Leone denied these claims, emphasizing that Campus Safety Services has a consistent number of officers patrolling on each shift. Later, he declined to give a specific number for how many officers patrol per shift. 

Increased policing is only part of the solution to violence, Akil said when asked about police reform. There must be improved criminal justice and improved rights for the victims of crimes, he added.

“Civil rights is for victims of crimes, their families victims of crimes as well,” Akil said. “You should not have to be worried to park your car in a certain location or walk off campus or walk from Temple University and worry that you will run into an individual that committed the same crime multiple times and have the confidence to continue that crime.”

THE COMMUNITY

Atwood identified four social determinants of health that indicate which communities may be more vulnerable to gun violence — a lack of quality primary and secondary education, a lack of social cohesion among individuals in a community, access to quality health care and economic mobility.

Reformation away from gun violence comes from community initiatives focused on the needs of families and children experiencing poverty, Atwood said.

“Gun violence is comparative to a malignant tumor,” Atwood said. “And when you remove the tumor, you still have to go through health and wellness for your body.”

Children in crime, especially those in neighborhoods experiencing poverty, continually cycle through the criminal justice system without being provided serious alternatives to their habits, Atwood said. 

“What happened to a 17-year-old, somewhere in his life, that he thought that taking the life of another was okay and acceptable?” Atwood said. 

Altwood spoke on the value of community reform in reducing crime in favor of an increased police presence or increased arrests. 

Ives emphasized university initiatives, like the Good Neighbor Initiative, a program to encourage students to build connections with the residential community, as a means for students to impact and improve the relationship with the local community. 

SAFETY RESOURCES

Campus Safety Services will implement a mobile safety system called Rave, which is also used by Drexel University, Leone said. The system will give students access to “Rave Guardian,” an app that consists of a virtual escort, text dispatch for assistance and a panic button, he said. They hope to begin implementing this system in the spring semester. 

Both TUPD and the 22nd Police District use security cameras to monitor their respective zones. TUPD has more than 1,000 cameras on campus and is attempting to improve the quality of their current security cameras, Leone said. 

The university hopes to increase the availability of student and community safety services, like FLIGHT, bike escorts and walking escorts, Ives said. 

Safety resources, like FLIGHT, Temple’s shuttle service, are often busy due to high volume and Temple plans on increasing these types of resources, Ives said.  

Campus Safety Services will not expand its patrol zone at this time because they could face legal challenges, Leone said. 

Temple leadership will engage with different student groups in the future to pursue solutions with  these anti-violence initiatives, Wingard said. The details of this engagement were not provided. 

“We have ideas and recommendations from all of you already, we know what to do,” Wingard said. “The challenge really is for us all to be able to come together and to use the resources we have to be able to implement these solutions so that we can reduce the trends that is most important to us.”

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