Another part of the school’s campaign to pull the wool over the public’s eyes was to find an expert on campus safety to say that Virginia Tech could not have foreseen the events of April 16, 2007. And that is what they did. Virginia Tech called upon Delores A. Stafford, President & CEO of D. Stafford & Associates and former police chief of George Washington University to write an opinion as to whether or not the school violated the Clery Act. Ms. Stafford is indeed a leading campus security expert with outstanding credentials. Her reputation is among the finest in the field of school security. I could devote pages to her distinguished career, most notably as Chief of Police for George Washington University. To quote from her biography, “ … she is a much sought after speaker, consultant, educator, expert witness, and instructor on campus security, campus safety and law enforcement related issues and on compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (The Clery Act) … .”
The problem is that Virginia Tech paid big money for her opinion. In response to my Freedom of Information request, Bobbie Jean Norris, Special Assistant to the Associate Vice President, Virginia Tech, reported that Ms. Stafford was paid $9,028.00 for her opinion and then another $26,923.80 for Clery Act training, consulting, and an audit. No matter how sincere or well written the opinion is, the fact that Stafford took money for her expertise and subsequently got work from the university seriously undercuts the credibility of her words. It stretches the limits of credibility to believe that Virginia Tech would pay an expert thousands of dollars to write an opinion stating that the school broke the law.
It is also important to note the narrowness of Stafford’s brief. She was not asked to write about the case overall, or about how the university could have done better; she was asked only if the University violated the Clery Act. Because this was a paid analysis, Stafford did not look outside the specifics of her brief. She did not have to lie or stretch the truth, she only had to do what she was paid to do, and not one bit more.
As you, the reader, well know, the heart of the problem is what the Virginia Tech administration was doing after the double homicide at West Ambler Johnston Hall. Why did it take over two hours for the school to issue a vaguely worded warning—just moments before Cho slaughtered 30 people at Norris Hall?
Here is the vague message the Policy Group sent out at 9:30 a.m. just 10 minutes before Cho began his rampage:
“A shooting incident [no mention of two people killed or that a murderer could be on the campus] occurred at West Ambler Johnston earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating. The university community is urged to be cautious and are asked to contact Virginia Tech Police if you observe anything suspicious or with information on the case. Contact Virginia Tech Police at 231-6411. Stay tuned to the www.vt.edu. We will post as soon as we have more information.”
Stafford notes that the Clery Act does not give a timeframe for issuing the warning notice. She therefore argues that the letter of the law was not broken—what she does not say is that at best, Virginia Tech was doing the minimum acceptable under the Clery Act. Stafford admits 25 percent of the schools queried indicated that in 2006—a year before the Tech tragedy—they were issuing warnings within an hour of an incident. The fact that these schools were issuing warnings within an hour, following the guidelines of the Clery Act, undercuts the thrust of Stafford’s argument because those schools were adhering to Clery Act standards.
Stafford’s opinion is even more puzzling when you remember that President Steger admitted under oath that no one knew who the killer was or where he or she was, and that a school official sent an email to notify the governor of the events at West Ambler Johnston Hall, saying “gunman on the loose.”
Stafford’s analysis and justification for her conclusion appears to selectively pick facts. For starters, she does not address why parts of Virginia Tech took the initiative and locked down—in compliance with the Clery Act--yet the whole school did not. She never addresses the inconsistencies in Tech’s response to the double homicides. Nor does she question the lack of evidence behind the police’s initial assertion that the Clark and Hilscher murders were the result of a “domestic incident.”
The bottom line is the fact that Stafford was paid big money to write an analysis saying Virginia Tech did not violate the law. This exchange of money raises serious questions about her objectivity. While I am sure there was nothing under the table in her financial dealings with the Steger administration, the fact remains that because Stafford was paid for her words, her opinion is not only tainted, but open to serious questions. (To be continued)