Thursday, May 21, 2009

Prudent response or overreaction?

A student is seen walking near campus in beige camouflage and desert boots, carrying what looks like a gun. A student calls campus authorities, who half an hour later alert the half of the student body who are part of the text message-based warning system that an armed man has been seen on or near campus. They ask students to "call 911 immediately" if they see him.

Students in classrooms and in the student center were told to stay inside during the scare, which lasted nearly three hours. But the university did not call for any evacuations or mandatory lock-downs of campus buildings.

Police were seen in bullet-proof vests and school officials locked the doors of campus buildings and warned students not to sit near windows.

It turns out to be a false alarm. The UC Irvine student who triggered the panic was apparently a paintball player heading off campus to attend a game. They're still looking for the student in question, but his name hasn't been released.

But the innocuousness of this case was not discovered until after the police detained a different student, a man named Matt Fritz, who was wearing camouflage pants and a hat. Fritz said he was well-known around campus for his work with security details at events. He was handcuffed and questioned about his whereabouts, while police in Los Angeles County fifty miles away questioned his parents.

So is this overkill, or was this a prudent response to a situation that had the potential to be much worse?

Since the Virginia Tech massacre, school authorities across the country are on edge. Any little thing can trigger a response, including at this campus. Almost nothing happens in the "nice" parts of Honolulu, which includes all the university campuses, and the same is true of Orange County's campuses like UCI, Chapman University, or Cal State Fullerton.

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