St. John’s students decry lax security

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The president of St. John’s University met with several hundred students last week to explain why he had tapped former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to head a new task force to beef up security on the campus following a shooting that left a football star paralyzed.

The Rev. Donald Harrington, who heads St. John’s University, unveiled interim security measures until the task force comes up with a definitive plan for better campus safety.

He told the students who packed the school’s University Center last Thursday that he had chosen Kelly to head the security task force because he was an impartial expert in security matters.

Kelly, who served as police commissioner from 1992 to 1994, is currently director of global security at Bear Stearns and will remain at the financial services firm while he takes the temporary post at St. John’s.

Harrington said he did not want the campus to have a “prison atmosphere” after new security measures are implemented, but he also said he did not view the March 11 shootings that seriously injured Cory Mitchell, a 22-year-old football player, and wounded Rashon Fray, 19, as a “haphazard” event.

Police arrested Chris Prince, 21, of Elmont, L.I. 20 hours after a fracas in an off-campus bar spilled over onto the St. John’s campus and charged him with the shootings.

“We have to look at everything,” Harrington said of the task force’s assignment to evaluate campus security. The force will compare St. John’s security to that of other campuses and talk with students, staff and community residents.

Harrington also sent letters to parents of St. John’s students, informing them of Kelly’s appointment and the university’s commitment to a safe campus.

At the meeting with Harrington last week, many students complained about the attitude of campus security officers and claimed the guards try to avoid escorting students around campus late at night.

Some students said St. John’s security is inconsistent and several they had never had their IDs checked except to go into the library.

Harrington and Susan Ebbs, the senior vice president of student life, said they were not aware of any registered complaints against St. John’s security officers. They urged students to report such problems to building managers and other university officials when they happen.

On the other hand, many students said they felt safe on campus, even after the shooting.

Mitchell, who was a linebacker on the Red Storm football team but not taking classes this semester, was paralyzed from the waist down and transferred to Westchester Medical Center after a brief stay at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica.

He was then transferred out of the medical center last Thursday night, reportedly to a rehabilitation center. His girlfriend is reportedly pregnant with his child.

Fray, who is not a St. John’s student, was also shot during the altercation, which was in the campus’s residential village near Gate 1 on Utopia Parkway. Fray, who was shot in the leg, was treated and released from New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens.

Prince was arraigned on charges of attempted murder and assault in Queens Criminal Court. His bail was set at $100,000, said Mary de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Prince’s next court date is March 26.

Harrington said that although it was impossible to say St. John’s will never experience such violence again, he hoped the new task force would help him and the university do the best they can to prevent further incidents.

“I am deeply grateful that Mr. Kelly has agreed to bring his formidable expertise to bear as we undertake an objective examination of our security procedures, to assess their effectiveness and recommend changes, if necessary,” Harrington said.

He said he expected the task force to convene for about a month and he has established an interim plan for Gate 1 access.

From 11:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. there will be two security officers at the gate, stopping each vehicle and recording the driver’s licenses and vehicle plates. From 2 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. no one will be permitted to enter the campus without a St. John’s ID or authorized overnight guest pass.

“We have no history of violence on this campus,” Harrington said, “and we are not going to let the fact that this incident was brought in from the outside deprive us of the happiness we have at St. John’s.”

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at, or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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