College announces decision to arm Public Safety officers

By Steven Viera, News Editor ||

In order to further protect members of the F&M community, the College’s Board of Trustees approved a decision on Monday, June 9, to equip the 19 sworn officers of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) with firearms. The decision comes after a year of deliberation and consultation with students, faculty and professional staff, and other relevant parties.

In 2012, the firm Margolis, Healy & Associates performed an audit of F&M’s security and safety measures, which initially prompted the question of arming DPS as a way to deal with a potential armed-intruder scenario on campus. Afterward, college officials decided to explore this suggestion and the possibility of arming.

“It was objectively the quality of our campus police force—its preparedness and its training—combined with my concerns about the increase of active shooters and the realities that our officers face today in their off-campus patrols, that prompted me to call the arming question,” said Dan Porterfield, president of the College.

To that end, in September 2013, Porterfield opened a campus dialogue on arming that included students, faculty and professional staff, and members of the Lancaster community, particularly those neighboring the College. This dialogue included open forums and information sessions led by college officials like Porterfield, online surveys to anonymously gauge community responses to arming, and more.

The College also circulated a document, commonly known as the White Paper, which outlined data on arming at other colleges, DPS’ qualifications with regard to the use of firearms, and a list of frequently asked questions. The White Paper can be accessed athttp://www.fandm.edu/uploads/media_items/topic-of-arming-at-f-m-discussion-paper.original.pdf.

Ultimately, the decision of arming DPS lay with the Board of Trustees, which established a Trustees’ Task Force on the Question of Arming to review information and make a recommendation to the Board.

“In making the decision to arm the sworn officers of [DPS], we looked at the issues and concerns that are associated with arming sworn departments of public safety at colleges and universities across the country, and we looked specifically at concerns of the Franklin & Marshall community and the surrounding neighbors,” said Douglas McCormack ’85, a member of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Task Force on the Question of Arming, in a statement on behalf of the Board.

“Among the most influential elements for our deliberations were the views expressed by faculty, students, professional staff and administrators in the campus forums, one-on-one meetings, and campus surveys,” he continued. “All of these conversations revealed that there were strong perspectives on every side of this issue and helped the Board understand community concerns about safety and firearms.”

The Board originally intended to address the question of arming in February 2014; however, rather than accept or reject a proposal at that time, the Trustees decided to postpone their final decision in order to gather more information. At a meeting on Monday, June 9, the Board approved the decision to equip DPS with firearms.

“The Board felt that it was our responsibility to look at the question of arming objectively and analytically, not to be swayed by personal views, and to fulfill our obligation to decide how best to ensure the safety and security of the campus community,” McCormack said. “The realities of what campus police officers face in protecting students, faculty, and administrators are different than they were 30 years ago. We decided to equip F&M’s sworn officers to be able to confront those realities.”

According to the article “Franklin & Marshall Trustees Decide to Arm Campus Police” on the College’s news website, F&M is the latest of many colleges and universities in Pennsylvania to arm its security forces, along with Millersville University, Penn State-Harrisburg, Lehigh University, and York, Muhlenberg, Lafayette, Moravian, Juniata, and Dickinson Colleges.

The cost to initially equip, train, and store the firearms is estimated to be between $40,000 and $50,000, according to a list of frequently asked questions on F&M’s website. Annual costs of training and maintenance will be approximately $10,000.

Before being issued 40-caliber pistols—the same type of pistols used by the Lancaster Bureau of Police, according to William McHale, director of DPS—in September, officers will undergo a three-month training period that will include psychological testing, diversity training, and more than 30 hours of additional training on use of the specific side arms officers will be issued, according the F&M News article.

McHale pointed out that DPS officers, who patrol and respond to calls in the local community as well as on F&M’s campus, carry expandable batons and pepper spray and will continue to do so after obtaining firearms.

“Officers are trained to recognize situations that pose an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to any person, including the officer,” McHale said. “Officers will remove their side arms only in these situations and only after other techniques to de-escalate a situation have failed or would not be effective.”

According to McHale, only DPS’ 19 sworn officers will carry firearms; the four security officers will not have weapons but will continue to keep campus secure. All firearms will be stored in a locked facility within DPS’ office when not in use, and policies relating to the use of firearms by DPS officers will undergo a thorough legal review.

DPS is composed of 23 security personnel: 19 sworn officers and four security officers. All sworn officers are required to have Act 120 certification, which requires them to graduate from a municipal police academy and complete 750 hours of training. Additionally, DPS’ officers also have Act 235 certification, which provides certification in the use of certain types of weapons.

Thanks to these and other practices, DPS was recently re-accredited by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (PLEAC) of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. DPS is one of five colleges in Pennsylvania to be PLEAC accredited, along with Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Point Park University, and Lehigh University.

“DPS is tasked with providing the safest environment possible for all who come on to our campus, and we believe this decision will contribute to our efforts to do that—we live in an ever-changing world, and not all who come to our campus may do so with the best intentions,” McHale said. “Given that our officers are required to protect campus, as well as off campus locations, the College’s trustees decided to provide additional tools for the sworn police officers it employs to be able to respond to the full range of incidents that can and do occur.”

Members of the F&M community can give their feedback, anonymously or otherwise, on the decision to arm DPS athttp://www.fandm.edu/arming/submit-feedback.

Junior Steven Viera is the News Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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