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A Conversation with the Wright State Chief of Police About Campus Safety

Chief Kurt Holden | Photo by Bethany Althauser | The Wright State Guardian

Wright State University recently released its action plan with an executive summary and recommended findings following the critical incident review of the Hangar incident on Sept. 15, 2023. Chief of Police Kurt Holden discussed the Hangar incident, the resulting action plan, the Wright State University Police Department effectiveness and overall campus safety. 

For context, can you walk me through the incident on Sept. 15 in the Hangar?

Around 11:15 a.m., there was a report of an individual that entered the Hangar with what some believed may have been a gun. Officers quickly responded, assessed the situation, realized that it was not an actual firearm, it was a singular, rubber object, and then took the individual into custody for inducing panic and then spoke to witnesses in the area. Once we realized that there was just an individual that found something, because once we started investigating it, we were quickly informed that this individual found what was an ROTC training aid and then was trying to find somebody to give it to. From many of the witnesses, he was asking people if they think it was real or fake. Many people said that it was fake, but people really got alarmed once he lifted it above his head and said, ‘I believe I have a real gun,’ and that’s when people ran. He didn’t make any direct threats at anybody, from the witnesses that stayed around. 

So he just found this gun in the Cadet Lounge of the ROTC office?

That’s what I believe it was, in the Cadet Lounge area. It was a situation that we all wish didn’t happen, it was alarming, and since then, I know ROTC has put many protocols in place to not have that happen again.

Is that a door that is usually locked?

It’s a lounge area where cadets go and have lunch, and they go in and out, and they do some training and things like that. I don’t know the specifics of what all they use that room for. 

You said that ROTC has made some changes about that. Are you aware of any of the specifics of those changes?

I know that the door automatically locks now when they leave instead of something that you have to lock yourself. I know that they have since repainted all the training aids so that they are not looking possibly like they could be real. 

One of the things that I was reading on [the executive summary and recommended findings report] is about how students or the community in general can raise concerns if they feel threatened by somebody on campus.

Absolutely. See something, say something.

There is email documentation about people who did reach out about this student and this person’s behavior beforehand. Did WSUPD take this into consideration before the incident on Sept. 15?

I can’t talk about the individual’s mental health, but what I will say is that there were incidents where people had some concerns, but when we go talk with somebody, we have legal obligations to actually verify. So, for example, people can’t just say something about [the interviewer], and then [the interviewer] can’t communicate something back, and so it’s a difficult thing to deal with, that’s why we do our best. Our officers are crisis intervention trained, we do [Question, Persuade, Refer], we do everything that we can to get individuals resources and help. Just because someone is exhibiting a behavior that you find is concerning may not legally give us the ability to restrain that person and put them into a hospital without due diligence. There is a lot of legality and liability that goes into that.

On Sept. 15, after you had the suspect in custody, can you walk me through the steps moving forward?

During the incident, officers quickly responded, assessed, I know there was an email that was sent out saying that there is no threat. Then, I met with the media about 50 minutes to an hour later, explained the situation to them as well. I know that I talked to Staff Senate, Faculty Senate, went to the SGA meeting, explained about the incident. I know that there were still some concerns, and sadly we live in a society where you see what happened at Michigan State, you see what happened at UNLV, and what I try to tell people is that everybody there that day—there were two groups that did everything right. There’s one group that did everything right based on what they thought was going on, and if something like that happened again, they should do exactly what they were doing. And then you have another group that was doing everything right based on what they knew was going on. And why those are at conflict, that’s what this action plan is, is so that we can properly educate the community on why law enforcement does this, or why public health does this, or why communications are this. What might seem like an emergency to one person technically might not be an actual emergency. It might feel alarming, but an alarming incident does not automatically equate to an emergency.

The training rifles, are they shaped like rifles but have the orange tip?

I don’t want to say it’s exactly shaped because rifles have parts and pieces, and this is just one singular object, it’s a mold, so it has no operable parts on it. It’s very similar to a marching band rifle that they would toss into the air, but it’s a singular object. 

Can you also walk me through, after you had the suspect in custody, taking the suspect to the fraternity president’s house?

This individual left the jail, and the jail called and said he’s coming straight to the police department because this individual didn’t have a place to go because he was trespassed. We ensured that he got his belongings. He had just walked I think about 14 miles from the jail. He told us where he was going, so he was going to go there regardless, and so the officers took him where he was going to go anyways. They stood by, and the [fraternity president] said that he would take [the suspect]. 

Were you involved with the suspect or have you been in contact since Sept. 15?

I try not to get intimately involved in certain investigations just to keep the credibility and integrity of the cases.

Before I get into the action plan and the actual steps, do you have any concerns about gun violence on college campuses in general?

I don’t have major concerns. I understand that the incident that occurred on Monday [Cedar Hall shooting incident], again, that is completely different than what happened at the Hangar; however, we are a very, very safe campus, and so I just challenge you all to maybe go look at the annual safety and fire reports at other colleges and compare their stats to ours, and you’ll see that Wright State is a very good campus, it’s a very safe campus. I’m very proud of that, and we should be very grateful that when those rare occurrences do occur, we have incredible law enforcement professionals that handle them quickly, swiftly, and without harm to individuals. 

Especially after the Walmart incident, and like you mentioned, the Cedar Hall incident, it has raised some concerns with the community. How would you address those concerns and fears?

I would tell them to look around at other colleges, see what challenges they are facing, and then when you look at Wright State Department of Public Safety and the Police Department, we offer training every single week. We offer education every week. Our officers are proud to engage with the community, collaborate, partner. We do programming constantly throughout the university and campus. I think that sometimes when these incidents happen, I have heard people say, ‘You all should offer training.’ I think that’s something that I challenge Staff Senate, Faculty Senate, SGA, The Guardian to help us get that information out there to students that ‘Look how much programming and education they offer,’ because we offer everything that’s been asked [of] us to offer, and that’s one of the things, and of course you’ve seen the action report, we’re going to offer training. Well, I can’t mandate people, but now there is a requirement for employees for sure going forward that people receive the appropriate training to at least be informed about what we do and why we do it. I think that’s very important.

Speaking of the training, can you talk to me a little bit more about if someone has a mental health crisis, the type of training that people go through to address those types of situations?

Most officers, when they go through the Police Academy, they receive blocks of training on crisis intervention and crisis awareness training. Here at Wright State, I don’t know if you have seen the story or not, we are the third police department in the state of Ohio to receive the One Mind Pledge where all of our officers and dispatchers are crisis intervention trained. It’s very rare. I mean, there are over 1,000 police departments in the state of Ohio, and we are the third to actually receive this. 

All of our officers receive QPR training, which is Question, Persuade, Refer. We also have 10 instructors at the agency, and we offer QPR every week, and that is just for anybody that wants to attend, they can get knowledge on how to ask the question, how to persuade, how to help someone get resources because sometimes we can’t force those resources, and this will at least allow you to have those conversations. One we talked about earlier was sometimes, it can be very difficult to speak up, and then you speak up, and then you go, ‘Well why didn’t the officer do this,’ and the thing is that we did everything we possibly could when evaluating and assessing the situation, and of course, there is only so much we can do with the legalities of the law. 

I do see the training on Engage and the flyers.

Yeah, we offer a lot. I mean it’s on the university calendar, it’s on Engage, it’s on our police webpage, it’s on every TV around campus. Just getting that out there, even with these incidents that’s happened, with Walmart, with UNLV, we have very little attendance in our trainings, and we offer them in-person, we offer them virtual, we offer them upon request. A lot of people are saying that they want the training, but we are not seeing people attend, and I would really love to see that attendance go up. I think it’s important because we go over what to do, we go over when we do notifications, how we do notifications, and that seems to be a lot of the questions that people have. We have the information and we want to give it, it’s just that we need people to attend.

Other than education and training, can you talk to me more about crime prevention with WSUPD?

Crime prevention is the job of everybody on campus. We are developing a Path Program similar to the Veteran Champions. We are going to do a Campus Safety Champions program for students, staff and faculty. It’s something that I am very proud of. When I became chief in December of 2021, one of the things I put in place was called Community Connections because I wanted officers out and about engaging with the community, and I think that people are like, ‘Wow, these officers are always out and about, they are always talking, always doing programming,’ and so last year, we just updated all of our stats from 2023, we have over 10,000 positive community connections, we offered over 90 trainings to the campus community about scams, sexual assault awareness, alcohol and drug awareness, online dating safety, Run, Hide, Fight, human trafficking, and we trained over 400 staff, faculty and students in Run, Hide, Fight. It goes to show that we are out there to educate, because education is what’s going to bring situational awareness, and situational awareness will allow people to make the best personal safety decision for themselves. 

Are those statistics online on the police website?

We put them in our annual safety and fire report, so the new ASFR will have 2022, so it’s always a year behind, but when we do our Department of Public Safety overview training, I share the most recent stats so that if people attend the training, they get the stats live compared to waiting a whole year. 

In 2022, the police department received a grant from the state and I was wondering how that money was being used on campus?

So it has to be used on campus because it is a campus safety grant, but of course, it is used for more cameras across campus.

Are those cameras inside or outside?

I can’t say specifically because it releases safety vulnerabilities, but the university is being a good steward of the $147,000, so it’s going to all cameras, so it’s cameras, cameras, cameras. 

Before walking through a little bit of the action plan, just a final reflection question: What is your vision for WSUPD amidst the recent, larger safety events on campus?

Monday was a big event, and that’s because that was a legitimate threat to campus. The Hangar incident, I think, was just a very alarming incident because we had an individual with what people thought might have been a real gun, and then people reacted how they thought they should respond to that, but the individual didn’t make any direct threats, but what I tell people is come up and walk up to the officers. The officers are out there engaging with the community, they are answering questions, they are out and about at events. We offer training, and those trainings, it’s not just us talking and then we say ‘Goodbye’ at the end. We have Q&A at the end of all of our training to ask questions and to kind of get that information out there. 

One thing that I wish that would help us is, for example, you all or SGA or Faculty and Staff Senate to share a lot of the good things about safety at Wright State. That’s one thing that communications does, and we can only do so much, and you all are technically our partners, and so I think getting that information out there about what we offer, what we do, what other schools are dealing with and how Wright State doesn’t have to deal with a lot of those challenges I think will speak to the kind of campus we have. When those alarming incidents happen, we are a community and we will work through it together. I think that’s the big thing is how do we get all these other entities involved to share a lot of the positives because the only time someone wants to talk about safety is when they feel that something was unsafe, and I think if we help promote a lot of the great things we have ahead of time, when those very, very rare incidents happen, and of course I’ll keep saying ‘very, very rare’ because the data shows that it’s very, very rare here at Wright State, and then it speaks to the kind of professionals we have at the Wright State University Police Department because they responded quickly, swiftly, and handled the situation. 

That goes to show that not only is it very rare, which is great, but we have officers that handle things very quickly and professionally. You can’t have a much better formula, we are very thankful and grateful that we are a safe campus, and I think that we should celebrate that a lot more than just talking about the one incident that happened. 

Are you able to talk about the incident at Cedar Hall? 

I can talk a little bit about it. 

A lot of the concerns were that it was an off-campus individual who came onto campus. Could you walk me through what the police know about that incident?

Yeah, so I can tell you pretty much what the media already knows about it, which was it was an individual that lives here on campus had an existing or pre-existing relationship with somebody. That individual came here to campus to retrieve property, the property happened to be a cell phone charger, and it escalated to firing a shot from a firearm. Officers responded, our first officer was on-scene within 60 second, a minute, took the individual into custody, made sure that there was no victim or injuries and kind of checked the area, and quickly took the individual to jail where currently the individual is charged with felonious assault, I believe, and there will be other pending charges because there is a grand jury date of this Wednesday that they are going to seek additional charges. The individual was trespassed, arrested for a felony. 

What I tell people is that we are a public campus, it is open to the public. We do as much as we can to deter things from happening here on campus. In those situations, if people see something, again, say something. If people feel like there is this or that going on, call us because I would rather you call us and we respond and it’s nothing than to not call us and it be something. Our officers did an incredible job once again and no one was injured. 

The gun that the person used, did that individual bring it on to campus or was it already existing on campus?

The individual brought it to campus.

In Cedar Hall and housing on campus, are there hallway doors that are locked and then individual doors?

Supposed to be. Supposed to be locked. So we don’t control the access control over there, that’s Crawford Hoying, but I do know that there are locked doors. I believe the main entry doors to those are open, and then I believe you have to use your floor key to open up your floor, but again, I’m not entirely sure how that works. All that I can say is that the individual was arrested, a firearm was taken as evidence, he is charged with a felony.

I was also wondering if you could walk me through a little bit of the action plan and explain some of the steps that you guys are taking and the rest of the campus community is taking. The main thing that people were concerned about is the communication aspect of Sept. 15, so the notification system and communication.

I will direct you to the webpage. Our police webpage has always had information on it. What we did is add an extra tab, ‘Crime and Safety Notifications,’ but we’ve always had what we do, when we do it, and how we do it. But, we also realize that maybe not everybody wants to read all that information, so we added a chart that breaks down when and how we send out notifications, and then we also highlighted ‘upon confirmation’ [on the chart] because a lot of people are like ‘Why didn’t you send something out during the Hangar incident?’ Well, it was never confirmed that it was an emergency because our officers arrived on scene and confirmed that it was not, so for us to activate an active shooter alarm, that would have been a gross misuse of our emergency notification system, so that’s why that was not done. 

Screenshot of the Wright State University Police Clery Act Reporting and Notifications page

Now, for example, the University of Cincinnati has types of alerts. Their emergency notification system, we pretty much have the same information, we just kind of replicated their chart because we do it the same way. A lot of people said ‘Why didn’t I receive a text?’ Even in their warnings, UC only sends an email. Does that make sense? So what we’ve done is that we have kind of made this a little bit more easily understood by those that can go and see it. This isn’t just on our police webpage, we have it in multiple areas, even on our emergency preparedness page, we have it right there as well. You can go to the chart back and forth. Those are some of the communication pieces that we have added. 

We are also pushing to where we would love people to sign up for this so they can receive text messages, they can receive those phone calls. They do that all through their WINGS Express. What the plan showed us was that we are in compliance with all of these other institutions on what we already do. I think the difference is that it’s so rare that when it happened it’s, like, this stuff does not happen at Wright State. Now, if you talk to other people around another college or something that might have 50,000 students in it, they probably get alerts all the time, and so it becomes ‘Ah they just sent stuff out.’ But here at Wright State, we don’t really send anything else out, so when we do it’s, like, ‘What just happened?’ That doesn’t mean that we can’t do things better, so adding that chart to our webpage was a great start. Then what we are doing is that we have looked at adding this to our public safety training, which we already did, but now we added the chart to it so it’s not just words. We can say ‘Here is all the words’ and then ‘Here is the chart.’ And then we can go through it and people are like ‘Okay, that makes sense.’ 

I always tell people that language is very important, definitions are important, and so ‘emergency’ is emergency. ‘Active shooter’ is active shooter. These definitions are very important. When we look at a situation, such as the Hangar, there are going to be questions on both sides of that spectrum. If we pressed that emergency notification system about an active shooter, and then it came out that it was a rubber training aid, I’ve got to really look at safety. If I know it’s not that and I do that, I just put the community at a major public safety concern. How many people would have tripped down steps? Fell down steps? Injured themselves running to the parking lots? That very same day, Troy High School had two false alarms, and people were crawling out of windows. 

It’s a very difficult thing sometimes to be the one responsible for that, but like I tell people, you know, ‘Chief, you look so calm,’ that’s a good thing. If I am scared, that’s not a good thing. I was calm because we have incredible professionals here that made a good assessment and good judgment, and when I have talked about this with other groups around campus, I have brought up the Walmart incident. Not the most recent one but the one before that. Individuals responded thinking it was something else. We found out that the witness that called it in didn’t give the most accurate information. The officers…sadly, an innocent person lost their life that day. And then we always remember that individual, and then we remember that another person lost their life that day in Walmart. And so our officers went in there and did it perfect. 

And then people are all like ‘He’s so proud of his officers.’ Well, yes, I am. While everybody was running away, they were running towards. I think people forget, like, how powerful that is. Of course, that’s what I try to push out. We added the protocols, we still have our existing notification system in place. We have added some additional, non-emergency communication templates as well, which students, staff and faculty may start seeing things that are maybe not technically an emergency, but maybe something that officers are responding to this area and please avoid the area until we get there and go ‘All clear.’ 

To give you another example, Fourth of July. We get a lot of calls that people hear gunshots; it’s fireworks 99.999% of the time. Those are things we are looking at, creating some templates and looking at our notification system, maybe seeing if there is another vendor or something that might want to come in and help us with some relays of text messaging because the last thing we want to do is water down our emergency notification system to where people are no longer paying attention to it because they don’t think that what is on it is an emergency, it’s just another text. So we’ve got to find that balance, and I think the balance is just fully communicating that this is very, very rare, and we handled this appropriately. That’s what I believe this action plan says: that we handled this appropriately. It doesn’t mean we can’t always improve. 

I’m glad you mentioned the non-emergency communications too because that was something I was interested about as well. 

We are looking at how to utilize those without over-alarming people on campus.

The next part I was going to ask about is number five [on the action plan], student and employee health and wellbeing. Can you talk about the disaster behavioral health plan?

This is something that is being led up by Dr. Barb Marsh from Counseling and Wellness, so I don’t want to misspeak on it, but she would be an incredible resource on how we are going to implement this.

I think those were the particulars that I was interested in learning about on the action plan. Is there anything else that you think the campus community should know about campus safety or the Hangar incident?

I just encourage students to go on Engage, to the university webpage, and take advantage of these resources. They are incredible resources with great information. It’s up-to-date information, so they are not getting information from 20 years ago. This is really good information. As it relates to the Hangar incident, I don’t have much to add. I think I have been pretty available talking about it from Staff Senate, Channel 7, Channel 2, 247, SGA. I hope that through the executive summary and the action plan and through what we have already communicated prior up until now, I hope that we can see that we have great resources in place, and we have incredible public safety professionals in place and that we begin moving forward, that’s what I hope.

Alexis Lewis


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