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New NDSU security post guards Chapman, officials

North Dakota State University police Capt. Scott Magnuson, left, accompanies President Joseph Chapman to athletic events as part of increased security efforts on campus. They are pictured here at a Jan. 10 women's basketball game against Western Illinois at the Bison Sports Arena Dave Wallis / The Forum

Protecting North Dakota State University's president is now a major role of a position in the campus police department.

NDSU police Capt. Scott Magnuson accompanies President Joseph Chapman to athletic and other events as part of a ramped-up security effort on campus.

Magnuson, who began in this role last fall, coordinates safety and security needs for the president's home and family, in addition to other duties.

"We've had some of what I'd consider very concerning incidents," Chapman said.

In one case, someone who was agitated about a student-related issue barged into the president's home while the family was home.

There also have been instances when Chapman's assistant has closed his office door and told him not to come out.

"Because of the position, not because of me, there are people who always have issues they want to air," Chapman said. "I'm the one who has to say 'yes,' 'no' or 'make a decision.' "

Ray Boyer, director of NDSU Police and Safety, said he created the position as part of NDSU's overall effort to take campus security to the next level.

Chapman said he did not request additional security.

"These are judgments that our security people make, not me," Chapman said.

"Do I feel threatened every day? Of course not," Chapman said. "But have we had incidents where I felt there was potential for a very serious problem? Yes, I have."

Boyer said NDSU took pieces from the University of Minnesota's police department strategy when developing this position.

The U of M has an officer assigned to executive protection who is stationed in the administrative building, said spokesman Dan Wolter.

The need for the position became apparent at the U of M in 1996 when a disgruntled employee went into the president's office and fired a gun, Wolter said.

"A president's office at a university tends to be a lightning rod for a variety of causes," Wolter said.

In NDSU's case, Magnuson works from an office in Old Main, the administration building, one floor above Chapman.

Sixty percent of his job is to serve as a law enforcement liaison with NDSU administrators.

In addition to Chapman, Magnuson works with administrators who deal with potentially heated situations such as student discipline, faculty or staff firings, or racial bias complaints. The position became permanent Jan. 5.

The need for a direct link between NDSU police and the president became apparent last February when a man brought a pellet pistol to NDSU's downtown campus.

Several weeks later, the same man - Vincent Degidio Jr. - ended up in a shootout with police in Moorhead after kidnapping a Fargo woman.

"Degidio could have had a weapon other than a pellet pistol, and that would have been a bad situation for us," Boyer said.

In that case, it was difficult for NDSU police to make decisions and move forward in a timely manner, Boyer said.

That's because Boyer was trying to manage the incident unfolding downtown while also staying in contact with Chapman about how it would affect university operations.

"It's hard for them to deal with both situations at once," Magnuson said.

Magnuson, who is armed but not in uniform, accompanies Chapman to home football games and other high-profile events, occasionally driving him.

Magnuson is there not only to protect Chapman, but other administrators and dignitaries such as the governor and lawmakers who frequent sporting events, Boyer said.

The number of events Magnuson attends with Chapman varies.

For example, over three days of homecoming last fall, Magnuson attended nine events with Chapman.

But for the whole month of November, Magnuson attended one event.

He attends all home football games and certain basketball games. Magnuson does not travel with Chapman to away games.

"When I travel, I'm another fan basically," Chapman said. "But when I'm in certain environments, because of my position, I'm well known and I'm often in the company of the governor, the delegation, legislators or other prominent business leaders.

"Sometimes in those settings, I think it just makes sense when you're in large gatherings to be prudent," Chapman said.

An NDSU police officer also drives by Chapman's home every night to check on it. Chapman lives off campus while a new president's residence is under construction.

Magnuson has several other administrative duties within the police department, including assessing the security needs of the downtown campus.

He has been with NDSU police for 11 years and makes $65,000 a year.

The University of North Dakota does not have security assigned to the president unless it's for an event attended by a high-profile national figure, said spokesman Peter Johnson.

Since the Virginia Tech massacre, campus police departments around the country have been re-evaluating how to keep the environment safe, Boyer said.

The Degidio incident and others have also prompted NDSU to make some changes, he said.

NDSU now has a campuswide notification system for students and employees.

The department also recently hired a police lieutenant who is a member of the Red River Valley SWAT team and has officers who are applying to be on the bomb squad.

In the legislative budget request, the state Board of Higher Education is asking for additional money to improve security.

"We've got to do something different to provide a sense of security," Boyer said. "Others may view that as overplay. I don't."