Higher security for higher education
Higher security for higher education

Apr 1, 1998 12:00 PM
Don Garberra

We assure you that every measure has been taken at Southern Connecticut State University to provide your son or daughter with a safe, secure environment in which they can learn and thrive as individuals," says John Prokop, the school's director of public safety, when addressing the parents of incoming freshmen.

Prokop prides himself on the job he has done during his 12-year tenure at the institution. His first-rate operation runs like a well-oiled machine.

Prokop began his career as a police officer with the New Haven, Conn., Police Department, where he was one of three hostage negotiators and a member of the state-wide narcotics squad. He was instrumental in negotiating the release of hostages in a bank holdup and at a convalescent home. After leaving the force, and prior to accepting his current post, Prokop was director of security at the Naugatuck Valley Higher Education Center.

At Southern Connecticut State University, Prokop decided on a complete revamping of the access control system. There were problems with the old system's externally mounted card readers, and the cards could not stand up to the wear and tear of continual use throughout the school day. The 12,500 students use their cards numerous times each day in their travels back and forth between classrooms, recreation halls, the library and dorms.

Those problems were compounded by difficulty in getting the proper service and response from the local phone company. "They were never able to find the cause of any problems we had in the lines," Prokop explains. "They blamed it on the distributor of the cards and readers, who, in turn, blamed them. So, because of in-fighting between the supplier and the phone company, systems would be off-line for a week at a time."

The school incurred the cost of bringing in extra personnel to monitor the facility, notes Prokop. Doors that were retrofitted with activation points were also a problem, since they were not conducive to the traffic patterns of a student environment.

Starting anew

To address the problems, Prokop chose a Casi-Rusco card access system, which functions as the heart of the school's security operation. The new card access system is used in all residence life halls, facilities and plant operations, and some of the computer labs in academic buildings.

Non-critical buildings use Schlage locks. Eventually, Prokop plans to bring all buildings on line with the Casi-Rusco system. "We felt thatthe residence halls were where we had to start with the new system because personal safety is our top priority, while protection of property is second," he says.

Motion detectors are used in the new addition to the Lang Social Work House, because the new addition houses faculty offices with ground-level access to windows - and office computers. Motion detectors are located in the center of each room, and in the corridors.

Motion detectors are also used for special needs, says Prokop. For example, when property has disappeared in the middle of the night, the security staff has set up a motion detector that is attached to the phone line.

The access control system complements other security measures housed in central headquarters, including:

* a GE two-frequency radio system;

* a proprietary phone system with more than 60 emergency telephone sites on campus, both internal and external;

* a computer-aided dispatch system that keeps a history of all activities coming into the room;

* a Simplex fire alarm system; and

* a national crime incident computer report system that allows access to all criminal records nationwide, and all master keys that are signed out by contractors doing work on campus outside of normal working hours.

A police-trained staff

Prokop, who holds the rank of police chief, has a staff of 27 police officers, and the security facility is a registered police precinct. All officers wear blue uniforms with a specially designed patch, have the power of arrest and carry 40-caliber automatic hand guns. The staff also includes security professionals who are not police officers: 30 part-time gate attendants, four buildings-and-grounds officers for traffic control, five telecommunications operators (dispatchers), and two certified instructors in arms and police procedures in Connecticut.

Each officer must pass, by Connecticut statute, 480 hours of initial certification at the Police Academy in Meriden, Conn. Subsequently, they must go back to the academy for 40 hours of training to be recertified every three years.

Prokop also provides extra training for uniform and non-uniform personnel on how to handle disgruntled clients, investigative procedures, crime prevention, rape defense and other police functions that are not mandated by statute.

Patrols around the 150-acre campus are done by a combination of four marked vehicles, one unmarked and four bicycle patrols.

Prokop is not a proponent of CCTV: "I don't believe in using a lot of it in this particular academic environment - it's a public institution, anyone is welcome to visit here. My concern for video cameras is on an as-needed basis for on-site apprehensions. At this campus it serves no useful purpose for general surveillance, because the probability of an apprehension by camera monitoring is virtually nonexistent in a public area. CCTV cameras are most effective in restricted areas or large-tiered parking facilities that don't have 24-hour routine patrols. Our patrols are continuous 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Alarm helps nab burglar

A recent incident proved the competence and effectiveness of Prokop's operation. "At 5:30 one morning, we received a window burglar alarm activation at central headquarters. Several cars were dispatched to one of the residence halls. Arrival time was 45 seconds. An individual was observed running from the building carrying a stereo. He was immediately apprehended. The perpetrator triggered the alarm system by cutting into the ground-floor window's mesh screen, which incorporates an invisible alarm contact. As he was being escorted back to central headquarters, the two female student inhabitants of the room, who had awoken and seen him exit, were calling the burglary in to our emergency hotline. The system and our officers responded so fast that the problem was already taken care of by the time the students had gathered their wits and called us."

Database holds key to phone thief

Another successfully handled incident involved unauthorized use of the university phone system. An administrator in the fiscal affairs office noticed a substantial monthly increase in the billing of a particular telephone access PIN number. Prokop was notified, and asked to investigate. "Reviewing bills for a five-month period, we identified more than 6,000 unauthorized telephone calls made by 14 students," Prokop recalls. "The records for the telephone extensions at the university that had used that particular access code revealed the perpetrators' identities. The extensions used were a combination of office and hall telephones, along with specific student rooms. Next, we identified the area codes that the calls were made to. They covered more than 23 states," he recalls.

Prokop then identified, through long-distance carriers, the destinations of the calls. "A number of call destinations were to the home residence of students or their family members," notes Prokop. "Those students were brought in and shown the evidence against them. Statements were then taken as to their knowledge and involvement, and they were turned over for university discipline and restitution. Some students received suspensions."

The university is now in the process of changing the existing telephone access PIN numbers to restrict use by telephone extension. According to Prokop, an interesting fact was born of this experience. "If you are buying a PIN access code system, you have to be sure the numbers are not sequential, because it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that they are in sequential order. Once they've been able to get one PIN number, they simply try the following sequential numbers and can wind up with another and another."

To Prokop, the security function is also about strong community relations. "I want to develop a better relationship with the university's surrounding community," he says, so students can meet not only students that live off campus, but also the ones that live on campus, and the faculty.

Prokop says support from the school's upper management is a big factor in his success. "A security manager is only as good as the support he's given," he says. "You can have a lot of good ideas and intentions, but without their backing, you'll accomplish nothing."

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