Campus Safety to Bear Arms?
December 12, 2016
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The university community is debating a proposal to arm Campus safety officers, and the debate is made more timely by the Nov. 28 attack on Ohio State University students.
Bob Zavada, Campus Safety head, released a proposal in early November to grant officers power to carry concealed firearms.
Firearms would only be used in the event of a life-threatening situation on campus, according to the proposal. While there is no timetable to the decision-making process, university faculty members and students have strong – and mixed – opinions about arming officers.
University officials have arranged forums for faculty, students and staff to have open discussions. Some believe that firearm possession is unnecessary and point to alternatives. Others support firearms as a proactive approach to possible life-threatening events.
Some argue that violent crime incidents are rare in the Back Mountain area.
“We have never had an incident on campus where someone has used deadly force,” said Dr. Joe Curran, religious studies professor and Faculty Senate chair. “The incidents with mass shootings and mass casualties are extremely rare, and they get a lot of attention like Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, these get a lot of attention and the level of attention they get make people feel like they are more likely than they actually are.”
Kit Foley,Vice President of Student Life, said serious situations are possible. “The likelihood of something like that happening is really small, but the question is what if? Are we as prepared as we could be?” said Foley. “This is something you cannot predict. Even though it’s so statically small, you never know where it’s going to happen next.”
Zevada’s full proposal is available on MyMU.
The campus community is raising concerns.
One faculty member inquired about about the level of Campus Safety officers’ training.
Several officers have law enforcement experience, Foley said. “We have members of campus safety that are very well trained and have carried weapons in the past, former police, FBI, state police that have that training,” said Foley.
Another concern is whether the arming of officers would change the relationship between Campus Safety and students. Zevada said he wants students to know that Campus Safety would not change their persona or standard of operations if they begin to carry firearms. “Campus Safety personnel designated as armed would not be acting in the capacity of a police agency and would not be a confrontational enforcement entity, unless life-threatening, violent conditions were present requiring necessary intervention for the preservation of a safe and secure campus,” the proposal states.
“It is really important that the campus community does not change,” said Foley. “He [Zevada] is not suggesting that we have a police force on campus. Moving Campus Safety to a police force would be a very different situation.”
Campus Safety officers would not be granted the power to arrest. The University of Scranton’s Police Department does have the power due to the higher crime rate in downtown Scranton, but Dallas and the Back Mountain region have a relatively low crime rate.
Curran and the Faculty Senate has proposed alternative methods of securing campus and keeping students safe and remaining in line with the university’s mission. “I want to explore every alternative short of arming public safety that would actually make us safer,” said Curran, “and part of that is the Sisters of Mercy, non violence is one of the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy”
The university currently practices campus lockdown drills each semester and Curran and Zevada have discussed linking campus buildings with an intercom system to provide instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency.
Senior healthcare management major Ricky Clark had his own ideas. “Maybe have one or two guns in Campus Safety’s office locked away so if there is an emergency there can get to it, but I don’t think they should carry them,” said Clark.
In addition to Safety officers, four local police jurisdictions are available to respond to an emergency: Dallas Borough, Dallas Township, Jackson Township and the Pennsylvania State Police. Studies have found that police officers can respond to an emergency on campus in about four minutes.
Curran said the university community should explore alternatives to protect the students and Campus Safety officers, too.
“If we are putting deadly force into the hands of a university employee with the expressed purpose of taking someone else’s life, if necessary, we’re asking a lot of that university employee,” he said. “Right now we wouldn’t expect Campus Safety to put themselves into harm’s way in the event of a campus shooter.”
The conversation will continue, but the Board of Trustees will ultimately make the final decision based on a recommendation by President Botzman.
Foley said it is an unfortunate reality that the university community must address the reality of school violence.
“Am I excited that we would have to do this? No, but the reality is, our world has changed. I think we need to be asking those questions because things have changed. “