The news was full of images from a circling helicopter over Ball State University last night, police cars from at least three different agencies (university, city and state) were littering the streets and sidewalk, armed officers leading crowds of students, even more heavily-armed ones going through a couple of buildings room-by-room, occasionally glimpsed via telephoto lens through a window or door--
Had a madman mowed down innocents in a blaze of horror? Were there, as early reports claimed, hostages?
Was there an actual gun?
No one is sure.
What did happen was a student in the Rec and Wellness Center yelled, "GUN!" And the the building got cordoned off, much of the campus was locked down and every available officer -- and the news media -- descended on the area. After three hours of worry and consternation, nothing was found.
Bank robbers of America and would-be terrists from all over, please do not take note.
Much like happened earlier this year at IUPUI, when someone reported seeing a man with a long gun on the campus, the school was put on "lockdown," massive police presence followed and nothing turned up. (There's been speculation that the incident at IUPUI was the result of someone quite legally securing a firearm in the trunk of their vehicle, but no one has come forward.)
News coverage of bent half-wits mowing down unsuspecting students have resulted in this kind of over-reaction, with multiple police agencies combing through maze-like campuses and buildings. Unless great care is taken in communication and coordination, sooner or later it's going to result in a blue-on-blue incident. Students are no more careful of their words and actions than they've ever been and all it takes is for someone to want a little attention or get careless with a toy gun and-- wham. Lockdown. Staties and Officer Friendly and the Campus Cops stalking the halls with what one reporter correctly pointed out as "assualt rifles" and we can only hope their radios all have at least one shared channel and somebody's keeping track of who's where.
("Lockdowns" bother me, too -- that's what they do with unruly convicts at prisons, no? OTOH, some BSU students were collecting outside the police barricades with cups of coffee, chatting with reporters and playing lookie-lou, so it's not quite a large-scale edition of the Stanford Prison Experiment, at least not yet; but save your Zimbardo faceplam, it's coming.)
Big News Coverage -- of a big nothing. A big needlessly-endangering nothing, reinforcing the lesson to college students that, should they see someone with a firearm, the correct response is to call the police and shelter in place. Is that really what they ought to be doing?
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
11 months ago