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A comprehensive look at police response to the MSU mass shooting

March 9, 2023
MSU Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police Marlon Lynch in his office during an exclusive interview with The State News on March 2, 2023.
MSU Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police Marlon Lynch in his office during an exclusive interview with The State News on March 2, 2023. —
Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

When Michigan State University's campus was placed under attack on the evening of Feb. 13, MSU's Vice President of Police and Public Safety Marlon Lynch notified Interim President Teresa Woodruff of the situation and made his way to campus.

At that point officers, per their training, had already begun responding to shots fired at the scene of the Union and Berkey Hall

"Everyone has a role," Lynch said. "Your training kicks in, to what you're supposed to do and you go from there." 

How the immediate response took shape 

MSU Department of Police and Public Safety belongs to the Ingham County Regional Communication Center. This means the county's 911-line is part of a central dispatch center that connects the public to police, fire and emergency medical services, or EMS.

As a result, the dispatch center was able to communicate immediately to other jurisdictions such as the East Lansing and Lansing Police Departments, Meridian Township Police Department and the Ingham County's Sheriff's Office. Radio communication promoted other agencies to respond

Lynch said ELPD officers arrived simultaneously with DPPS officers. They assessed the situation when they entered the scene and dictated how to render aid and attempt to neutralize the threat

"When you enter a situation like that, the officers, they don't wait, they go in, and they did," he said. "When our officers arrived in a situation like that, and I think from their observations, they knew that they were going to need overall assistance." 

Officers arrived at the scene after shots were first fired at Berkey Hall, trained to organize and enter the building immediately with equipment already at hand, Lynch said

Once shots were fired, the department’s emergency operation center was immediately opened, according to DPPS Communications Manager Dana Whyte.

The center is a completely separate operation that is in contact with the unified command post

Whyte said the call came into the department’s emergency operation center at 8:18 p.m., which was when the first 911 call about the incident came into Ingham County dispatch

The first emergency alert was sent out at 8:30 p.m., 12 minutes after reports of the first shots came in.

Students, faculty and staff are automatically subscribed to MSU alerts with their MSU emails, but in order to receive alerts via a phone call or text message, they must log into the system on alert.msu.edu and change their notification preferences.

“Part of what we do is we take the situation and after action, we learn. We are already learning from the incident and a response on what we can do better,” Lynch said. “How we can move forward is we can help the community to understand a little bit more about what to expect in that circumstance. But at the same time, how can we better communicate throughout the incident itself?” 

The FBI’s role  

The department operates out of a unified command post, which directed the actions of all agencies responding to the shooting, including the Michigan Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI

”As a dispatch, if the call comes in, you share the information into the unified command post and then there's a decision on what to do with it," Lynch said. "We were fortunate enough to have in that situation that we actually were able to create perimeters, search teams and have responding officers to go and check on various reports.” 

FBI Michigan Special Agent In-Charge Jim Tarasca said federal law enforcement agencies will typically self-deploy in crises or violent situations like the one on MSU’s campus

“Whoever's the actual investigating agency (MSU), they're not reaching out immediately to ask for assistance,” Tarasca said. “We self-deploy, we just start sending people. So, for the FBI, we show up on scene wherever the scene is … hat-in-hand … I don't need to tell my folks they know what to do. They just they start responding that scene.” 

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The primary goal during the four-hour lockdown was to make sure there was no further threat, which involved groups of tactical teams and regular police officers going into buildings, clearing them and making sure students are safe while locating the threat

”From the time shots are fired, to identifying an individual, locating him and either arresting him or, in this case, he took his own life … four hours is actually a pretty good turnaround,” Tarasca said

A hub of fear and misinformation

The police radio, or scanner, is a means for the police and law enforcement agencies to communicate with each other, but the radio is unfiltered. This means the information on the radio is unverified

"In the overall process, we were in a situation where we needed to know whether it's true or not,” Lynch said. “And so, if we had the resources and the ability, we would go check.” 

For example, the bomb threat at Owens Hall that officers were informed of through the police radio was unfounded. At that time, the suspect was being located, Whyte said.

Tarasca said people were scared, calling in everything they heard or saw.

“For the teams on the ground, they are actually checking those locations to report back that such and such building is clear,” Tarasca said. “As they're doing this, they're talking to students, ‘Hey, what do you hear what you see, is there anybody else involved,’ so that's part of the intelligence collection … taking the calls, pushing those calls out to the officers on the ground and them collecting (intelligence) too, as they as they move through buildings and through the campus to just talk to students.” 

The future of active-shooter trainings on campus

MSU DPPS offers active-shooter trainings which can be done with students living in resident halls and faculty in their offices. However, Lynch said, the department is considering how trainings in classroom settings — where an active-shooting scenario is more likely to happen — will work

For instance, the department is looking to understand how to communicate the timeframe of an active-shooter scenario better during trainings themselves

“It’s not, in some situations, going to be over in 45 minutes or an hour,” Lynch said

University leader decisions

The executive policy committee, consisting of Lynch, Woodruff and other executive officers was responsible for institutional decisions including the shooting’s impact on classes and the allocation of additional resources

On the night of the shooting, the committee was responsible for deciding what would happen to classes and university-wide operations the following day, as well as health and wellness services needed for those involved.

”It really is taking a look at it from a holistic approach and being as comprehensive as possible,” Lynch said

In an email sent to students, Woodruff announced the following campus safety changes:

  • Beginning March 13, buildings will require key card access by current students, faculty or staff members from 6 p.m. until 7:30 a.m.
  • Locks will be installed on over 1,300 classroom doors.
  • Improved centralization or campus cameras will be installed.
  • Active violent intruder training will be required next academic year for all employees and students. 

The department will also conduct an after-action evaluation of how emergency personnel and university leaders responded to the crisis, with intentions to solicit an external, third-party after-action review

”We have to be fluid. We know we need to make adjustments,” Lynch said. “This isn't something that's done for a month or two and that's the end of it. Listening to our peers and the impact on their communities, how they made their changes and why is very helpful to move forward with.” 

Regarding the response, Lynch said there’s room for improvement in many areas, emphasizing a need for preparedness and prevention and a balance between the two

”Do we just sit still and say, ‘Oh, well?’ No, that's not an option,” Lynch said. “It's continuously working on trying to prevent it but being ready when it does happen and knowing the potential outcomes of actions like that.” 

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