It’s the responsibility of the William and Mary Police Department to ensure the safety of our campus. As police chief, it’s my goal for the community and its members to not only be safe, but to feel safe.
I have read closely the letters submitted in the most recent issue of the Flat Hat about the Aug. 27 shooting at Tribe Square. Any shooting in Williamsburg is frightening, especially one so close to where our students live and socialize. While William and Mary Police knew the campus was safe in the moments that followed the shooting, we’re hearing that many of you did not feel safe. That matters.
It’s understandable to question how police make a determination of imminent threat or not. Several factors go into our assessment of an incident scene, and we have to consider all of them almost simultaneously. This assessment is based on our training and experience. This is the same whether the incident occurs on campus or outside of our jurisdiction, as was the case with the shooting at Tribe Square. This assessment dictates if and how we formulate and distribute any warnings or alerts.
As police chief, it’s my goal for the community and its members to not only be safe, but to feel safe.
In this situation, William and Mary Police responded as mutual aid to the Williamsburg Police Department, the agency with jurisdiction at Tribe Square. Williamsburg Police quickly determined there was not an active shooter situation – that it was an isolated incident involving individuals in a dispute, and that the suspect fled the scene quickly away from campus. WPD determined no imminent threat remained, and my officers concurred. If that determination had been any different, we would have immediately sent out an Emergency Alert through our Rave notification system. Given the circumstances, our protocol called for a Clery Warning – a less urgent informational message, which was approved by WPD and distributed to campus approximately an hour after the incident itself occurred.
I understand the questions about the timing of the messages. Given today’s climate and available technology, there is an expectation of immediate notification even in circumstances that experienced police professionals determine don’t represent an immediate threat. We are reviewing the handling of this situation, as we would with any incident such as this, to learn if there are areas for improvement. The feedback from all who have asked questions, expressed concerns and shared their perspectives will inform our review process.
The William and Mary Police Department remains committed to your safety. It always has been and always will be our number one priority. And we will not only continue to work to keep you safe, but also to ensure that every member of this community feels safe.
The author is the Chief of Police of the William and Mary Police Department. Email Cheesebro at [email protected].