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'We heal differently': MSU police chief recalls campus shooting

Chris Rozman wears a police uniform and sits behind a microphone.
Arjun Thakkar
/
WKAR-MSU
MSU Chief of Police Chris Rozman provided multiple updates to the community on the night of Feb. 13.

Michigan State University's Department of Police and Public Safety led the emergency response the night of Feb. 13. One year later, campus police are continuing to process the events of that day.

Chris Rozman, MSU's chief of police, is an alum and has been on the university police department for more than 20 years. He was interim deputy chief on the night of the shooting. As officers helped the injured and searched for a suspect, Rozman was tasked with informing the public.

Rozman spoke with WKAR's Arjun Thakkar about how he and his officers have adapted emotionally since that time and how his department has continued to work on safety on campus.

Interview Highlights

On communicating with the public on Feb. 13

There were so many people watching us and leaning on us for information ... but we remained laser focused in being as transparent as we could with sharing live time information, because we knew that our community needed that information to not only stay safe, but also to help them deal with and cope with this significant event.

On how first responders process trauma

We heal differently than sometimes the general public. Meaning we're going to keep going and we're going to keep being present, and we may kind of push those feelings to the backburner ... Everybody's healing journey is different.

On lingering concerns from students about safety

What happened on February 13th is a absolute anomaly. And it's horrible the violence we experienced that day, but it's not the norm. And it was the result of one individual. It wasn't a pattern, it wasn't anything else. And so I think it's important just to talk about that in in context and perspective, while at the same time validating and acknowledging people's the way that they feel when they're on campus.

Chris Rozman, in a police uniform, speaks into a podium filled with microphones.
Michelle Jokisch-Polo
/
WKAR-MSU
MSU Police Interim Deputy Chief Chris Rozman addresses media at a Thursday morning press conference.

Interview Transcript

Arjun Thakkar: You provided multiple updates to the media and members of the public throughout that night as more information was being discovered. Can you speak to how you processed and shared those updates with the community as you were learning about them?

Chris Rozman: Yeah, that's a loaded question. It was difficult to say the least. But at the same time, we realized that we had a job to do and that there were so many people watching us, and leaning on us for information. Not only our students and faculty and staff, but so many parents and guardians and loved ones all around the state, the country and even the world. So it was it was difficult. But we remained laser focused in being as transparent as we could with sharing live time information, because we knew that our community needed that information to not only stay safe, but also to help them deal with and cope with this, this significant event.

Thakkar: Can you speak to how the public facing role you held at that time has impacted you? And how often you've thought about that night since then?

Rozman: Yeah, I think all of us that were involved that night, think about that day, almost every day. I mean, it's hard not to in a variety of ways. It was difficult for me in the sense that I knew I had a important role speaking externally. While at the same time, I knew that there was so much going on behind the scenes operationally, with our officers, with our department that I wasn't necessarily part of, because I was in a role of kind of media relations.

And that was difficult for me, because my leadership style is to be in front, to lead by example, and to be out there. And so it was difficult to not be on the front lines, if you will. But I think about that day all the time, and I think that a lot of our officers do as well. And a lot of our employees, I mean, it's something that's a heavy lift. At the same time, I'm proud of all of our employees and our officers and how they responded. But yeah, we think about that that day quite a bit.

Thakkar: And how have other officers in your department been feeling and processing their emotions?

Rozman: We've been so focused on employee wellness. And I think what we've learned is everybody's healing journey is so completely different. And especially as first responders, we heal differently than sometimes the general public. Meaning we're going to keep going and we're going to keep being present, and we may kind of push those feelings to the backburner.

And that's what we've realized is, while the general community may have been impacted kind of immediately after this event, you know, with some of our employees it took, you know, three, six, even nine months before we started realizing that they had to cope in their own way and take advantage of the resources that we had in place. Everybody's healing journey is different. And that's what we realize the most. And so we had to just acknowledge that, be conscious of that and adapt our approach to catering to what our people needed.

Thakkar: An external review of MSU's response to the shooting concluded officer's actions were, "appropriate, timely and correct." The report also highlighted multiple recommendations for improving preparedness in future emergency responses. Could you talk about any internal changes that have been made within MSU Police Department since the shooting to improve its ability to respond?

Rozman: I'll start by acknowledging the efforts on that day. Our officers responded with bravery. They were so focused in their approach. And that's really a credit to the training and the relationship that we have every day with our local and regional law enforcement partners. This type of event is something that we have trained for and that we have prepared for for years. And because of that the response was as effective as it was.

Secondly, anytime that we have a critical incident of any type, we always want to look at what we can do better in the future and what we can learn from that. And I think what the external report really highlighted, and what we talked about internally was that the size and the magnitude of this event is just so hard to even comprehend. And it's so difficult to prepare for. And a lot of those recommendations are valid just in terms of resource accountability, accounting for all of the people and all of the assets that came to assist us.

We had law enforcement and public safety resources self-deploy, meaning that they just showed up without us asking for them. And it really kind of overwhelmed our system. While we appreciated that, we're glad people came, we learned that we could track those resources, even better than we did. And so, accountability, staging, those were kind of the main takeaways for us from an operational perspective.

It also highlighted the need for just ongoing cooperative training between agencies. So always take aways, and we're always happy to hear those and be part of those discussions. We have also worked very tirelessly this last year on improving our security technology on campus. The security operations center is something that we've really focused on, along with our security technology that will really help us advance into the future to make campus safer.

Thakkar: There have been several policies adjusted at MSU relating to security and safety measures from requiring keycard access after business hours to adding classroom door locks. Could you explain where the university stands on installing these locks and what you've heard from the students and the campus community about these additional measures?

Rozman: We'll start by saying that we've really listened to our community in terms of what the need and the want is. Because we know that we're a public institution. We're a public university and we can't just lock all of our buildings on campus 24-hours a day. It's not realistic. But it's not our decision to make. That decision is really made by a lot of different stakeholders on campus.

And we've listened to student ideas and concerns and faculty staff and really worked to come up with the best model for securing our campus while providing — while maintaining the culture of kind of openness and publicness that we have here in our large campus. So first of all, we've listened we've listened quite a bit to our community. And we've worked to implement those suggestions.

The university has made that a priority. We've committed to that. And we've worked well, working with our university partners and stakeholders to kind of come up with the best safety and security plan that we can moving forward.

Thakkar: The Board of Trustees since then has also voted to ban visitors with a concealed carry permit from bringing weapons on to campus. Do you believe that policy update makes the campus safer?

Rozman: It's a hard question to answer. I mean, whether any law that's passed actually makes things safer, right? Based on our experience as law enforcement, most people that have a concealed pistol license that are legally possessing and carrying a weapon and have taken the additional steps to get a concealed pistol permit are generally law-abiding citizens. It's the criminals carrying weapons with unlawful intent or outside the scope of the law that we're really focused on.

We know that no law is perfect. It's always helpful to have additional laws in place that we can kind of have in our toolbox and that we can use if needed. But I think it's hard to say if it actually improves the safety on campus. But we support it. And we appreciate having that additional resource.

Thakkar: And some students continue to express concerns about feeling safe and comfortable at MSU. And several have said, for example, that they didn't feel safe returning to class in Berkey Hall. What would you say to campus community members who are continuing to express those concerns about safety?

Rozman: I've had this conversation with a lot of students as well. And what I like to start with is pointing out that I think when some people use the word (unsafe), what they really mean is uncomfortable. Because I've had people say they don't feel safe, and there's a police officer standing right next to them, right? And everybody has different lived experiences with the police. I think we really need to look at it from a perspective of, do people actually have safety concerns for a specific reason? Is something actually occurring? Or is it just a general feeling of being uncomfortable?

What it comes down to is Michigan State University is a very safe campus. When you look at the the crime that actually occurs here, that we track very carefully, not a lot of significant incidents occur here, especially when it relates to violent crime.

What happened on February 13th is a absolute anomaly. And it's horrible the violence we experienced that day, but it's not the norm. And it was the result of one individual. It wasn't a pattern, it wasn't anything else. And so I think it's important just to talk about that in in context and perspective, while at the same time, validating and acknowledging people and the way that they feel when they're on campus.

And what I will say to any student or faculty and staff on campus is we commit as Police and Public Safety to improving the feeling of safety on campus. We want to listen and we want to do better. And if that means lighting or cameras or visible presence or more officers or less officers or used in a different way, then we want to listen to that be part of that conversation and adapt and adjust.

We're all in this together. We often use the term Spartans protecting Spartans, because as Police and Public Safety, a lot of us are alumni from here. Most of our officers are alumni from here, and so we are genuinely vested in this community.

Thakkar: Chris Rozman is the chief of police for MSUs department of police and public safety. Chief Rozman, thank you for your time.

Rozman: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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