Schools heighten security for commencement ceremonies

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Campus police and security details at colleges across the country are on alert as commencement season begins in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and other recent violent incidents.

At the University of Pittsburgh, where more than 6,000 students will graduate on Sunday, campus police are ready. They put in place security enhancements last spring after more than 130 bomb threats rocked Pitt's Oakland campus.

“This year we are keenly aware of what happened in Boston, so we have additional coverage and we have (intelligence) reports from the city and FBI,” said Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney.

Last summer, four months after Pitt's commencement, authorities arrested Adam Scott Busby in Ireland for the Pitt bomb scares. Authorities did not reveal a motive for the threats. Busby, 65, who has ties to the Scottish National Liberation Group, remains in prison in Ireland.

“Several countries want him, and I think we're second in line behind Great Britain,” said Jimmy Kitchen, the assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh handling the case.

The university advised family members and friends planning to attend graduation ceremonies at Petersen Events Center to arrive early and to leave backpacks, large purses and packages at home.

Although Pitt anticipated a larger crowd than other schools in the region, Delany said he's comfortable with security measures the school put in place. People expressed gratitude for the extra attention last spring, he said.

“If anyone was unhappy, I didn't hear about it. These are all our children here, so we need to make sure they're safe. ... We have cameras, we have portable bomb-sniffing machines. We have trained K-9 dogs. We've fairly advanced compared to some schools,” he said.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania officials declined to discuss security measures for the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Center, where commencement will take place May 18.

“We have re-examined our security plan and put some security in place that will enhance it. It might not be something people see at the event, but I can assure you it will be in place,” said IUP spokeswoman Michelle Fryling.

At Robert Morris University in Moon, which scheduled May 10 and 11 graduation ceremonies at Sewell Center, a school spokesman said campus security officers would sweep the arena with bomb-sniffing dogs beforehand.

“As always, our armed police force will be on duty. While the tragedy in Boston has certainly heightened the perception of danger, we do not believe that there is any greater risk this year at our commencement ceremonies,” said Robert Morris spokesman Jonathan Potts.

California University of Pennsylvania expects about 6,000 people for ceremonies on May 17 and 18. Ed McSheffery, chief of campus police, said he will have extra manpower.

“We will be taking extra security measures to make sure everything goes well,” he said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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