UNT Dallas President Bob Mong Campus Safety Convention

The University of North Texas at Dallas continued to position itself as a regional leader in critical arenas, serving as the higher education sponsor of the Campus Safety Convention 2018 being held at the Omni Mandalay Bay at Las Colinas on Monday and Tuesday. The conference is being attended by nearly 350 campus police officers from across the state, nation and even internationally, to discuss, strategize and share the latest trends and techniques to help ensure campuses are always safe places. 

"That's a big deal for us because campus security is important at UNT Dallas and our College of Law," UNT Dallas President Bob Mong said. "We've doubled the size of our police department in the last year because we've become a residential campus. We wanted to show that UNT Dallas is a player in this field and so this sponsorship was important." 

Delivering the nation's premiere campus safety conference to North Texas was the persistent work of Dr. John Coleman, the Faculty and Program Coordinator for Criminal Justice at UNT Dallas. The co-author of "Managing Campus Safety and Security in Higher Education," worked tirelessly to convince the organization to expand its two conferences per year, one held on each coast, to three. Now as the higher education sponsor for a second consecutive year, UNT Dallas finds itself in elite company. The west coast sponsor is typically the University of Southern California, and the east coast sponsor is typically the University of Pennsylvania. UNT Dallas will again sponsor the conference next July, Coleman said.

In one year, the Dallas conference doubled the number of participants attending, from 170 a year ago to 348 this week.

Mong welcomed the attendees Monday morning with a brief speech before introducing the keynote speaker, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who became a household name around the country for his on-the-ground leadership as Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Houston area and the Texas coast last August with record flooding. Acevedo's poise, organization and command of the harrowing situation has been praised for helping to stop Harvey from becoming another Hurricane Katrina. 

Acevedo, the first Latino tapped to lead the Houston Police Department, accepted the position in November 2017, just nine months before Harvey put him and his department to the ultimate test. The outspoken Acevedo, who came to Houston following a tenure as Austin's police chief, gave an animated and energetic 30-minute speech in his assertive, often booming voice. He covered all aspects of how he approached emergency management as the storm gathered strength and threatened to cause massive damage, then swept through the city of 2.3 million people, essentially leaving swaths of it underwater and with tens of thousands washed from their homes. 

"Art Acevedo is one of the best chiefs in the country," Mong said. "What I like about him is he served all levels of law enforcement. I first got to know him when he was the chief in Austin and then he went over to Houston in 2016, and then he had to contend with this 1,000-year flood in Houston; the rains that never stopped in August last year. He had what I thought were really great leadership lessons for these officers."

The UNT Dallas Police Department was represented by several of its officers, including Chief of Police Christopher Shaw. The two-day convention presented discussions that spanned a variety of issues and potential emergencies, highlighted by arguably the most visible and terrifying scenario these days, an active shooter on campus.

However, Shaw noted that while mass shootings are challenging campus police departments to develop strategies to minimize the damage caused by an active shooter, or stop the act altogether, many more underreported emergencies are challenges on a far more frequent basis.

We see it a lot," Shaw said of mass shootings," but I'll tell you what we do not see: We don't see the number of suicides that are happening on our college campuses; we don't see the number of deaths that are related to alcoholism on our campuses.

"So, if you were to do a comparison, active shooters probably make up 3 percent of those deaths; suicide makes up about 85 percent," Shaw continued. "You have thousands of students that lose their lives to suicide and alcohol-related deaths. We try to incorporate programming and resources to our students to ensure that they have an avenue to talk to someone in the event that they are going through those particular crises. Those numbers (campus shootings) are relatively low compared to some of the more pressing issues affecting campus safety."