Arming debate leads to comparative review

By Sloane Markley, Editor-in-Chief with reporting by Justin Kozloski, Editor-in-Chief

The College administration continued its discussion of arming officers of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) with meetings for the Board of Trustees Oct. 17 to 19, as well as hosting a meeting with the local community this past week. The community meeting invited members of the Northwest Neighborhood, which falls under the James Street Improvement District, to engage in a discussion about the prospect of arming DPS officers.

Over the course of the past few weeks The College held student and faculty forums in order to assess the opinions of the larger community.

“The student forums presented an opportunity for students to engage in a discussion, offer ideas and a variety of viewpoints on the possibility of arming Franklin & Marshall College’s Department of Public Safety officers,” said William McHale, director of F&M’s DPS.

The question of arming officers has been in progress for a couple of years now. Following a six-year period of updating the Department, including receiving accreditation status from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the question of the need for arming arose.

According to the white paper put together for the campus-wide discussion, the College states, “While the likelihood of F&M experiencing an active shooter event, armed intruders, or comparable violent crises…is very low, we must regularly assess our preparedness. F&M’s urban location, its open campus bordering a public park, its multiple access points, and the daily presence of more than 3,000 students, employees, and visitors are contributing factors to the potential for dangerous situations occurring on or near the F&M campus.”

As part of this assessment, the College hired an outside firm, Margolis, Healy & Associates, to determine the public safety and security at F&M in Spring 2012. According to its website, Margolis, Healy & Associates is a professional services firm with 15 years of experience in advising K-12 and higher education institutions in security and regulatory compliance.

The firm has been involved in high profile cases across the country, including Clery Act and Title IX compliance issues at Penn State University and the shooting at Virginia Tech University in 2007. At the request of the U.S. Department of Education, The Healy firm developed the first emergency management guide for higher education, and the firm has developed other documents related to campus security and safety. For more information about the firm, its services, and history, visit its website at www.margolisthealy.com.

According to the white paper, The Healy Firm found that at F&M, “students, faculty and staff expect the same level of protection from F&M DPS officers as they believe they would receive from municipal officers.”

The officers of DPS are certified police officers in the State of Pennsylvania, trained in weapons use, and have sworn status, meaning they have the ability to patrol and make arrests. Officers patrol both on campus and on adjacent areas.

The officers of DPS cover areas in the municipalities of Manheim Township and Lancaster City. Currently, if an incident involving an armed individual or shooter were to occur, procedure requires officers of DPS to contact the police of either one of these municipalities and then monitor the situation from a safe distance, otherwise known as a process of “disengagement.”

“Active shooter scenarios happen in seconds and those seconds matter and given the responsibilities of the Department of Public Safety, we think it makes sense and that’s why we support their arming,” said Sergeant Brian Wiczkowsk, captain of the patrol division of Lancaster City Bureau of Police.  “They are not just on campus but in town as well. They need to be able to protect the students. It is the 21st century. We cannot just bury our heads in the sand and pretend that [active shooter scenarios] don’t happen.”

In addition to its consideration of the College’s relationship with the local police departments, the white paper outlines the current practices of similar institutions. According to the white paper, F&M is one of the few of the 50 national liberal arts colleges with sworn officers. Of those colleges with sworn officers, most of them are armed.

F&M looked at colleges both with and without armed officers. The white paper provides information on 47 liberal arts institutions. Fourteen of these colleges and universities are sworn and of them 11 are armed. The three that remain unarmed include Vassar College, Union College, and Furman University. Some of the Colleges that are sworn and armed include Amherst College, Bucknell University, Dickinson College, Lafayette College, and others.

The white paper also includes information on higher education institutions within the Lancaster and Central Pennsylvania regions. Some of these Colleges and universities that have armed officers include Millersville University, York College, Muhlenberg College, Lehigh University, and more. Gettysburg College is a peer institution that does not have armed officers.

Gettysburg officers are unsworn and unarmed. According to Bill Lafferty, Executive Director of Public Safety at Gettysburg College, the College has not armed its officers for two reasons: its status as unsworn and its strong relationship with the local police department. The conversation of arming has occurred.

“We have discussed this and most of the feedback was supportive of arming if we became a police department or our situation and relationship within the community and with the local police changed,” he said. “If we were a police department with full powers of arrest, then arming is absolutely necessary from my perspective from a safety and liability standpoint. Policing requires more intervention and with more intervention and involvement, officers need to be fully equipped to defend themselves and members of their community.

“A lot of our decisions have also been predicated on the type and frequency of crime on campus and within the Gettysburg area,” he continued. “Our situation is different than a larger metropolitan area in that we don’t see the types of violent crimes some others areas see with greater regularity.”

At Vassar its officers are sworn and remain unarmed. According to the College’s administration, the College has no plans of changing its unarmed status.

“At Vassar, we view our safety and security personnel as educators, not police officers,” said Chris Roellke, dean of Vassar College. “We do not arm our safety and security colleagues and have no intention of doing so. We are fortunate to have a strong collaborative relationship with local law enforcement and do not see a need or rationale to arm our own internal safety and security team.”

Two institutions in the Central Pennsylvania region have had armed officers since the 1980s. Dickinson College armed its officers in 1980 and Millersville University armed its officers in 1987. Both institutions have sworn officers.

Pete Anders, the Millersville University Police Chief, is also an alumnus of the institution. According to Anders, who was president of the student senate at the time the decision to arm the University’s officers was approved, the student body, generally, approved of campus police being armed.

“The student body approved University Police becoming armed as students were aware that the officers worked part time as officers for neighboring police departments in which they carried firearms,” he explained. “There had been occasional threats to campus, unarmed escorts of monies, open concerts and campus which required event security.”

Anders added that students were aware of the threat an armed situation posed, and felt that unarmed officers may respond but would not be able to stop the threat, showing concern from students as well as the officers who worked on the campus.

Anders has noticed a multitude and variety of improvements since officers have been armed.

“Since becoming armed, I observed as a student, area resident and Lancaster City officer that Millersville University police improved in overall safety and in the ability to respond to requests for aid from our neighboring communities,” he said. “The overall professionalism and training of officers increased, and mirroring local agencies has served as a force multiplier in responding to our most serious emergencies and toward prevention.”

The administration has been hosting these forums to hear the opinions so that they can address some of the concerns the community may have.

Some of the main concerns raised have related to the possibility of change in the dynamic between students and DPS officers, changing to the relations with students on the weekend, and the prevailing issue of potential racial profiling.

“Our officers have strong relationships with all of the diverse groups on our campus, but we always are looking for ways to improve,” McHale said. “One example of this is that we plan to some additional training. In the coming months, we will be working with an external company to provide diversity sensitivity training to all members of the department.

“This training is part of the regular training protocols for any professional public safety department,” he continued. “We continue to recognize the importance that our sworn public safety officers respond to each situation in a way that is appropriate, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the people involved. This continues to be a priority for the College as a whole.”

The College will be having another faculty meeting, facilitated by Doug Anthony, associate professor of history, Tuesday, Oct. 29. Depending on demand, additional faculty and student fora will be held Nov. 11-22. Furthermore, the administration has decided to add questions about arming to its campuswide sociological survey in hopes of eliciting more student opinions about the issue.

Seniors Sloane Markley and Justin Kozloski are Co-Editors-in-Chief. Their emails are smarkley@fandm.edu and jkozlosk@fandm.edu.

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