By Sloane Markley
A student-faculty forum, organized by Nellie Garlow ’14, brought students and faculty together from across campus to engage in a discussion about the possibility of arming officers of the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Some of the main issues discussed included concerns of racial biases and disparities in police activity, power dynamics between DPS and the community, differences between patrolling on-and-off campus, and alternatives to arming.
According to Garlow, she organized the discussion hoping to bring forth different opinions on the issue, as well as highlight some current research. The panel consisted of seven members, including four professors and three students.
Katherine McClelland, professor of sociology, was the first to speak. She described how she, along with a number of her colleagues, was concerned when she first heard from the College that there was a proposal to arm officers of DPS.
“When I heard about this proposal the first image that came to my mind was one of my students lying on the grass in Hartman having been shot by a security officer — not randomly — but because the security officer had heard there was an incident on campus,” she said. “The student was running from one place to another, had his or her ear buds in, didn’t hear the security officer say, ‘Stop,’ and the officer had to make a split-second decision because as far as they know the big bag [the student] is carrying could have a weapon in it.”
McClelland explained how this image pushed her to reach out to other faculty members. At the regular faculty forum, she and other concerned faculty members put together a joint statement expressing their concerns about arming DPS. McClelland stated that, while the faculty does not make the decision, members wanted their opinions to be heard.
McClelland also cited worries she has coming from her stance as a sociologist. According to her, one of the best-known findings in sociological research is the history of racial disparities related to police activities, ranging from stops and arrests to accidental shootings.
Virginia Maksymowicz, associate professor of art, followed McClellend. She explained that she is also concerned about the possibility of arming officers, focusing her discussion on possible alternative options of improving campus safety.
According to Maksymowicz, she began thinking about alternative solutions at the same faculty meeting to which McClelland referred. She began thinking of them as she considered some of the individual problems officers of DPS are worried about and some of the nervousness they face patrolling off-campus. She realized that much of this discussion was occurring within the context of something that is unlikely but in the news recently.
“It occurred to me that in an active-shooter situation — even though it is the more unlikely type of violence that might happen on campus — the first responders are not Public Safety; it’s not the local police; it is the faculty, staff, and students who are the first responders,” she said. “That got me thinking about what, then, are good solutions? Would a solution be arming all of us?”
She explained how some institutions across the country have already armed staff members and other institutions are considering it. On the other hand, she described institutions that have taken a different approach, including the University of Rhode Island, which has a center for nonviolence and is currently also engaging in a debate about arming its public safety officers. She also presented the example of Ohio, which has implemented a statewide, active-shooter training program for educators.
The first student to speak was Ibrahim Kamara ’15, who identified himself as representing the organization, Intelligent Men of Color Purposefully Accomplishing College Together (I.M.P.A.C.T). Kamara began by talking about the tragic shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and his subsequent disappointment in the country’s lack of legislation addressing the issue of gun control.
When he addressed the issue of arming Public Safety at F&M, he expressed both his displeasure at the notion of doing so but also described how the College had the opportunity to do something positive if it chose to not arm its Public Safety officers.
“There are two sides of this issue, so I guess the question to end on is whether we should arm public safety, and I’m supposed to offer an opinion as a black man on campus,” he said. “I honestly would be [remiss] to think that arming Public Safety would not have psychological and physical effects to some of my brothers here on campus.”
Sean Flaherty, professor of economics and don of Weis College House, spoke next, stating he had mixed feelings about the issue. He expressed similar concerns over arming Public Safety, explaining that he sees an active-shooter situation on-campus as a remote possibility. Yet, something he sees as a much more likely safety threat is what might occur off-campus, especially late at night.
“The fact is we know that there are some people who do not come on to campus but know that college students, late at night, are perhaps easy pickings for wallets and such,” he said. “So the extent that Public Safety is asked to patrol off-campus I have some sympathy that arming in that circumstance may be appropriate, but I desperately hope that we won’t see [arming] on-campus as a regular manner of course.”
McClelland added that the threat of robbery does not just affect students but also affects faculty who have been held up in the past, as well.
Mike Manley ’14 picked up the discussion after Flaherty. He began his discussion by stating he was against arming the officers of DPS when he first heard about the possibility because of his general gun control stance. He stated, however, that his opinion developed further as the semester continued.
Manley explained how he is a theater major, and each year members in the theater’s senior seminar develop a final show. This year the final show, entitled “Gun,” focuses on guns in society. A significant portion of the show consists of monologues based on interviews the cast conducted with members of the campus community, including students, faculty, staff, members of the larger Lancaster community around campus, and parents.
“After considering the entire community this affects and not just my personal opinions I do still feel the same way — that guns have no place on our campus, but my motivation is extremely different,” he continued. “I feel too many people are approaching this from their own views on the right to bear arms and not what is right for F&M and the larger community.”
Manley concluded by urging the audience and the members of the College community to consider this issue based on what is right for F&M here and now, rather than as a question of gun control as a whole.
Jeremiah Olson, a visiting assistant professor of government, was the next to contribute to the panel discussion. Olson described how his research focuses on criminal justice policy, specifically looking at the intersection of race and treatment of law enforcement. He expressed two concerns related to arming officers of DPS; the first is the instance of racial disparities within law enforcement practices and the second is his personal experience of seeing law enforcement officers use non-lethal weapons, such as pepper spray, inappropriately.
“As Professor McClelland has pointed out, there are a lot of racial disparities, including in police homicides,” he said. “I don’t want you to think these are really rare instances. There are hundreds of police homicides in the United States every year [and] black and Hispanic males are much more likely to be shot and killed by police than others. So that’s my main concern.”
His second concern, as stated earlier, was his fear of the possible inappropriate use of guns. He explained how he witnessed this while working in law enforcement himself.
“I used to work for a sheriff’s office,” he said. “I worked with decent people. At the same time, if you give people a tool, they will use it, and they did use it. I’ve seen people use pepper spray inappropriately, and I think we can all agree it would be really bad if we have Public Safety on this campus using guns inappropriately.”
Zach Adams ’14 closed the discussion as the final panelist. Adams described how he sees guns as an unsuitable way of addressing dangerous situations because of the potential for guns to exacerbate the danger.
“The summary is this: I don’t think that guns can de-escalate situations,” he said. “I don’t think guns can diffuse situations. I think guns in all situations increase the probability that anyone can die in an engagement. That’s absolutely true. If you give someone on either side of a power struggle a weapon, the other person is more likely to have that weapon used against them.”
Bringing the issue closer to F&M, Adams discussed his fear of the power imbalance that would occur on campus if DPS was armed and how that would subsequently change the relationship between students and officers.
“As it currently stands I think there is a great amount of respect between students and Public Safety,” Adams said. “I certainly respect Public Safety very much, but I think if Public Safety were given weapons we’re changing from a system of police by consent to one of police by force, and that changes the dynamic between students and the safety force.”
Garlow thanked the panelists for their contributions and then opened the floor up for questions or comments from the audience. The first student, who identified himself as someone who works closely with DPS, made a few comments regarding why DPS should be armed.
First, he stated that there is a misconception of DPS as being security officers when, in fact, they are police officers. Explaining that the College employs both security and police officers and the ones who would possibly be armed would be the police officers.
Second, he expressed what he saw as a positive to arming DPS, which is that the surrounding area will be controlled better. Currently officers from the Lancaster City Bureau of Police (LCBP) patrol the surrounding area, and he contended if DPS was armed and could patrol that area instead, then LCBP’s resources could be moved, and the overall community would be better protected. Additionally, he expressed that, if people have a concern about race or other form of police brutality, then interacting with officers of DPS is an improvement because they currently have a better relationship with the students than with officers of LCBP.
“It’s not their only tool,” he said. “They have many other tools that they use. This is their last resort. There are many things they use to de-escalate the issue. They are here to help and the best way to do that is to arm them.”
McClelland responded, citing how research shows that the amount and extent of training does not decrease the negative consequences seen in quick decision-making.
“When people have a gun, the consequences in split-second decisions — which all police officers have to make — are magnified,” she answered. “I would not exempt anyone in this room from the racial biases we all possess.”
The question and answer period continued, with one student suggesting an alternative to having officers armed at all times with the creation of an armory where officers could keep guns and use them only when necessary.
The campus-wide discussion of arming public safety officers will continue into next semester. According to the White Paper developed by the administration, Dan Porterfield, president of the College, will address the campus community with the decision made by the Board of Trustees on Feb. 10.
Senior Sloane Markley is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.