Haas Dean Calls Death “Suicide By Police”

The Dean of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business today (Dec. 6) said that the Nov. 15th shooting death of a student in the school’s computer lab was a “suicide by police.” The Nov. 15th incident in which a Haas undergrad, Christopher Travis, was shot by university police officers after he pointed a loaded gun as them shocked the campus.

In a memo emailed to members of the Haas community, Dean Richard Lyons said that “UC Berkeley Police are close to wrapping up their investigation. They said that while we will likely never know Chris’s intent, their leading theory, based on his history of recent and past episodes, seems to be suicide by police officer – that is, he intentionally put in motion the confrontation with authorities that led to his death.”

Lyons outlined ways the school is looking to improve security and emergency procedures following the incident, with a focus on better communication among and training for members of the school.

The full text of his email follows:

Dear Members of the Berkeley-Haas Community,

I want to report to you on the key issues that we are reviewing regarding security and emergency preparedness in the wake of the tragic shooting involving Berkeley-Haas undergraduate student Christopher Travis.

First, I want to thank again those Haas staff members on the scene who acted so effectively and bravely during the incident. We did not have any innocent bystanders hurt because our people made the right judgments in the moment. The emotional impact on members of our community has varied, and we want to be sure that everyone is feeling supported. Many were helped by talking with counselors from the Tang Center, a service that remains available to our community. Please let us know if you need any additional assistance.

UC Berkeley Police are close to wrapping up their investigation. They said that while we will likely never know Chris’s intent, their leading theory, based on his history of recent and past episodes, seems to be suicide by police officer – that is, he intentionally put in motion the confrontation with authorities that led to his death.

You should have received an email invitation from Undergraduate Program Office Executive Director Erika Walker about a remembrance service for Chris Travis on Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Room. The campus and I have separately expressed our condolences to the Travis family.

Here are some of the areas we are reviewing to improve Haas campus security and tighten our emergency procedures:

Emergency communications. We are exploring Haas-specific communications solutions to provide information to our community during an emergency because the existing systems didn’t function as they should have. We are working with campus colleagues to make sure these systems are improved and communications better coordinated, in addition to developing options for a local Haas system. We will report back to you with recommendations.

Emergency procedures and training. In reviewing the incident, it’s clear that many people were unsure of what to do, and directives from authorities were sometimes conflicting or unclear. Some members of our community got no or limited information and felt abandoned as they waited in rooms while others evacuated the building. We can improve on our responses by upgrading our training for emergencies of all kinds, and make sure our lines of authority are clear within Haas and to campus officials, including the police. We already have regular fire drills, and many of you have participated in earthquake response training. We are now reviewing additional training programs for other kinds of emergencies, and looking into developing standard procedures for various scenarios. For example, some Haas staff members had already taken an active shooter training program offered by the campus police. We will make this program available again in 2012.

Haas campus security. This security breakdown was caused by one of our own students, who had a right to be in the building. While our business school campus is necessarily an open one, especially to those of us who study and work here, it can also make some of us feel less secure at times. We are looking to find the right balance of openness and safety by discussing options for enhanced security in the building. We are also looking into better monitoring and reporting of occasional crimes against Haas students in Berkeley and surrounding communities. We are talking with officials at other urban universities for ideas on the best ways to do this.

Identifying students of concern. Identifying and helping students with problems is already a routine part of campus operations. UC Berkeley has a Students of Concern Committee that receives referrals pertaining to students of concern, collects additional information, and identifies and enacts appropriate strategies for addressing the situation. http://campuslife.berkeley.edu/dean/berkeleycares/committee In addition, the Tang Center also offers advice and information on dealing with students of concern. We have informed faculty and staff of these resources.

Tang Center. We are in discussion with the Tang Center to see if a counselor could have some hours at Haas each week.

Haas School Safety Council. We will appoint a Haas Safety Council of staff, students and faculty whose goal will be to review a wide range of safety issues and act as a sounding board for our community.

As I have noted, Berkeley-Haas had never experienced an event like this in its 113 year history, and it is unlikely it will again. But we must be better prepared for all kinds of emergencies. I will be reporting on our progress on these plans in the coming months. Meantime, please send me any ideas or concerns on these issues.

Have a safe and happy holiday break, and all the best in 2012.

Rich

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