April 18, 2007

Striking the Balance

SWAT teams wearing body armor and carrying machine guns stormed an administrative building at Virginia Tech this morning:

Virginia Tech students still on edge after the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history got another scare Wednesday morning as police in SWAT gear with weapons drawn swarmed Burruss Hall, which houses the president's office.

The threat of suspicious activity turned out to be unfounded, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said, and the building was reopened. But students were rattled.

"They were just screaming, 'Get off the sidewalks,'" said Terryn Wingler-Petty, a junior from Wisconsin. "They seemed very confused about what was going on. They were just trying to get people organized."

One officer was seen escorting a crying young woman out of Burruss Hall, telling her, "It's OK. It's OK."

To the best of my knowledge, Cho Seung-Hui killed himself with a bullet to the head on Monday morning after killing 32 innocent people and wounding many more, and he is still dead. Based upon thousands of years of human experience with one notable exception some 2,000 years ago, he is forecast to remain deceased.

So why is Virginia Tech still blanketed with heavily-armed and understandably tense police officers, many of which are dealing themselves with the aftershocks of trauma from the largest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history, just two days ago?

Part of the reason is to provide the public perception that something is being done and that the tragic massacre of two days ago will not be repeated on this ravaged, grief-stricken campus, a campus already awash in disbelief, shock, and fear. The officers are meant to provide psychological security as much as they are to provide physical security.

But as this morning's frightening false alarm showed, sometimes an overwhelming police presence in the wake of a traumatic event can instead lead to situation that increases or extends fears.

Today, Virginia Tech may very well be the safest college campus in the United States, but the massive display of force by police comes with its own costs.

Heavily-armed and no doubt highly-stressed first responders chasing ghosts and rumors are adding trauma to still fragile students like the young woman noted in the story above.

While a heightened police presence is still warranted to deal with the inevitable false alarms and to help provide a feeling of security, it is two days too late for the need of heavy body armor, and no current reason for police to walk around campus with tactical carbines. The time for such things has passed. On this day and in days forward, badges and "Smokie the Bear" covers should be enough. Enough, but not too much.

There is a balance, an equilibrium, an illusion of normalcy that must be regained for healing to begin.

Hopefully the officials at Virginia Tech will be able to find this equilibrium sooner, rather than later.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 18, 2007 11:01 AM

See also: "horse" "barn door" "instructions for closing."

Posted by: Jeff at April 18, 2007 11:29 AM

It's all about making people "feel safe", rather than actually BE safe. Clearly it went a little off the rails, since armed men in black don't make me feel safe no matter whether they have badges or not.

Posted by: Security Theater at April 18, 2007 11:33 AM