Chief Pearson: 'Claflin is a safe school'

By: Panther Staff
Mar 01, 2018

PANTHER 2018 spring chief pearson

Claflin Chief of Police Steve Pearson addresses security issues during a Feb. 20 news conference with The Panther.


Amid talk of safety in schools across America, Claflin University’s chief of law enforcement said the university uses its Panther Alert to ensure campus safety.

The Panther Alert is an emergency response system that includes emergency sirens, text and email alerts. In a news conference with The Panther on Feb. 20, Pearson said the administrations at South Carolina State University and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College are also included in the emergency system.

“We work drills together. We try and keep in constant contact with each other and local law enforcement: the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, the sheriff's department, of course South Carolina State Police,” Pearson said.

Students move freely between the three schools, so mutual knowledge of the campuses is important in case of emergencies, he said. He advised students to sign up for the alerts.

One of the safety tips the system offers is an active shooter strategy: run, hide, fight. The strategy warns students not to engage with an active shooter unless as a last resort, Pearson said.

“If you can run and get away, run. Don't try to go find something; get away from the area as quickly as possible,” he said.

If there is nowhere to run, Pearson’s advice is to hide behind tables or

chairs in a classroom. Engaging an active shooter should be the absolute last thing to do.

“Fighting someone is a personal choice,” he said. “Use whatever you can to fight for your life.”

Pearson said Claflin is assessing doors and inquiring about tools that will help students hide from and/or defend against an active shooter. But with the steady increase in the number of mass shootings around the country, such tools have become expensive.

On Feb. 14, a gunman killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. There have been 35 shootings in the country as of Feb. 28, according to Gun Violence Archive.

Claflin has not witnessed a mass shooting, but there were shooting incidents near the campus in the 2017 fall semester and three auto break-ins in August 2017. Claflin has since upgraded its camera system and emergency call boxes to ensure safety on its campus, Pearson said.

Metal detectors are also used as security measures during major events at Claflin, Pearson said. It is a preventive measure that puts people at ease.

Pearson also encouraged students to be obedient to emergency instructions.

“It is a distraction when you have everyone doing what they're supposed to do and then you have a few people walking around.”


Weapons prohibited on campus


The recent mass shooting in Florida prompted Steve Pearson, chief of police at Claflin, to address school safety.

There have been 18 mass shooting at schools in the United States since the beginning of 2018, Pearson told The Panther. He has his own advice on what students should do in case an active shooter fires on campus. 

“Run, hide and fight,” Pearson said. “You know what you need to do to save your life.” 

Pearson said that in the student handbook, Claflin prohibits weapons on the campus. 

Claflin has tools for students to use in case of an emergency. He said that students should sign up to receive Panther alerts on their phones. 

The emergency siren on top of the library can be heard through downtown Orangeburg. “The emergency system is for more than just an active shooter,” Pearson said. 

Claflin has implemented the SNAP Program to prevent auto break-ins, he said. Claflin has only had three auto-break-ins since August. 

Pearson said, “Claflin is a safe school.”

Pearson said it is difficult to handle situations when he doesn’t know about them. “Before you see something start escalating, you deal with it right there,” Pearson said. 

Tools to keep campus safe


Claflin is safe campus and Chief of Police Steve Pearson said he wants to keep it that way.

Speaking with The Panther on Feb. 20, he said there are a number of features designed specifically to enhance safety and security.

“The first thing that we needed to do was deal with our camera system,” Pearson said. “To help things be more secure, we had to place cameras all around the campus just so we can keep an eye out on what is going on.”

“Claflin is like a little town within the City of Orangeburg and we had to be mindful of that,” he said.

Pearson cited safety outlets available to students in case of emergency, including emergency call boxes.

“The way that they are activated is a student will press the button and the call will go to the front booth,” Pearson said. “The call will go through and as the student is on the line, the blue light on top of the pole will continue flashing and the student can continue to speak freely.”

A text message alert system – Panther Alert -- is used to inform students about emergencies on or the campus, he said. Pearson urged all students to sign up to receive the alerts.

“We also have South Carolina State as part of the emergency response text messaging system,” he said.

Training to recognize mental health issues


Claflin Chief of Police Steve Pearson said he is working to establish a program at the university to address mental health issues.

Speaking at a news conference with The Panther in the wake of the 17 deaths during a high school mass shooting in Florida, Pearson said addressing mental health is important because most such crimes involve mental health issues.

“Most mass shooters are suicidal,” he said.

The program will train faculty and staff on how to recognize symptoms of mental health problems, Pearson said.  “We want everyone to have training because a lot of people interact with students.”

However, according to the HIPA privacy law, everyone’s mental health information is confidential. Pearson said there should be a revision so law enforcement can be aware of mental issues to prevent incidents.  

“We need to know so we can inform the counselor that something may be going on,” he said.

Run, hide, fight


Claflin Chief of Police Steve Pearson offered advice on how to deal with an active shooter incident.

● Run – Doing so is common sense. “Get away from the area as soon as possible.”

● Hide - Close the nearest door to lock yourself in. In the wake of the Florida school shooting, Pearson said the university is looking at further security measures, including enhancing the ability to lock and block doors for campus classrooms.

● Fight – “Use what you can to fight for your life,” he said.

Having to do is a difficult decision. “It is something you have to keep in the back of your mind.”

Changing to a police force


Claflin Chief of Police Chief Steve Pearson was the leader who transformed his department at the university.

Pearson, who came to Claflin in 2004, saw the campus’ security go from just that to a full public safety unit. He came to CU with years of experience with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Columbia.

Pearson started as an 18-year old trainee with the City of Columbia Police Department and worked his way to becoming an undercover agent and working with narcotics at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

He came to CU in a new time for campus safety, and knew that change had to take place. Doing so involved a key transformation.

 “Trying to change the culture, and getting faculty, staff and students used to law enforcement being on the campus was the first thing,” Pearson said.

“We had to change the culture. It was just a security department for years, basically since the school opened,” Pearson said.


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