The day after a Macon man fired six shots at a group of students and a recent graduate walking in Mercer Village in January 2018, University President Bill Underwood said that the school would increase its security measures.
Underwood said in a statement following the shooting that “for the foreseeable future, and certainly until we understand more about the incident last night, you will see additional security visibly present during evening hours in the Mercer Village area.”
Mercer Police and members of the school administration told The Cluster in February 2019 that strengthening surveillance in Mercer Village was their first major improvement area.
Senior Communications Director Larry Brumley said that Mercer hired three private security guards to patrol the area where the campus borders I-75. Within weeks, Underwood decided to make the security installation permanent.
“The campus safety consultants that the University brought in after the January 2018 Mercer Village incident recommended that we make permanent the use of private security guards to supplement the work of Mercer Police officers,” Brumley said. “They are specifically tasked with monitoring key entry points to campus.”
In addition to the physical security presence, Brumley said Mercer Police also have more vision of the area thanks to the addition of new and upgraded surveillance cameras.
He said three new cameras were added and another six upgraded to newer models. In total, he said there are more than 600 security cameras on the Macon campus.
“Some of the cameras are monitored live by Mercer Police dispatchers,” Brumley said. “All of them record video that is saved on computer servers so that video can be reviewed later as needed.”
Another security issue students raised last year involved the emergency text alert system. Mercer Police can use the system to send a text message alert to all students, faculty and parents who opt in to let them know of any emergency putting the campus at risk.
In January 2018, nearly an hour passed before students received text alerts warning them of the shooting. Josh Collison lives in Greek housing behind Mercer Village, and he said the incident showed that Mercer needed to work to improve communication on campus.
“The issue isn’t the fact that they need more surveillance, it is the problem of response times and the lack of communication with students,” Collison said.
Collison, a sophomore history major, said he wasn’t informed about most of the new security measures that have been implemented until a Cluster reporter approached him for this story. He said he doesn’t think the changes go far enough.
“Quite honestly, it doesn’t make me feel any safer,” he said.
When Mercer began increasing security on campus, resolving issues with response times was a priority, according to Chief of Police Gary Collins. He said the text-alert process is now streamlined and should take just a few minutes.
“Previously the alert system had to go through levels of supervisors before being sent,” Collins said. “An officer responding to a situation that threatens our students (now) only has to alert his supervisor.”
Collins said one of the additional changes involved an upgrade to Mercer Police’s radio system. Officers can now communicate with one another more efficiently, but Collins said that the major benefit is quicker contact with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office in case of a serious crime.
“The previous radio system did not allow for radio communication with Bibb County. This is a new process,” Collins said. “We would want Bibb County’s support on a situation such as the shooting in Mercer Village in January of 2018.”
Additional security measures include increased lighting and new signs notifying pedestrians of video surveillance in Mercer Village as well as an external evaluation of Mercer Police staff, which Collins said confirmed is appropriately staffed for a campus of its size.
He said improvements were also made following students’ suggestions during the annual Fall Safety Walk, such as the installation of peepholes to external doors in the Garden Apartments.
Collins said in a previous Cluster article that the main focus of the safety walk is to check the emergency lights around campus that can alert Mercer Police. Students have the opportunity to take part in the walk and show the administration any other concerns they may have.
Brumley said there may be a good reason as to why students don’t always see the extent of campus security: potential criminals aren’t aware, either, and are less likely to evade detection.
“Sometimes, the private security guards are visible, and sometimes they are strategically positioned where they are not as visible, so as to effectively monitor activity around campus,” he said. “Just because students don’t see a security guard standing on the sidewalk does not mean that they’re not in the vicinity monitoring activity. Most of the time they are visible, but sometimes they move to other vantage points that are not as evident.”