By Steven Viera || Senior Editor
Stemming from an epidemic of mass shootings, colleges and universities across the nation have been forced to establish plans and preparations for the possibility of active shooters on their campuses; many institutions have explored the possibility of arming members of their communities to protect against such attacks, drawing widespread praise as well as criticism. At F&M, the College has armed the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and implemented a “Run-Hide-Survive” protocol as measures to protect students, faculty, staff, and other members of the community in the event of a shooting.
According to this article in TIME, in 2015 alone, there have been 23 mass shooting incidents on college campuses around the country with a total casualty count of 18 killed and 27 injured; in three of those incidents, the shooter committed suicide. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that 69 percent of shooters are young men between 13 and 20 years old that may or may not have any connection to the college they target.
Many colleges and universities have established policies and protocol to prepare for the event of an active shooter assaulting their campus. Common responses include using alert systems to notify students of danger on campus, partnering with and conducting drills with local law enforcement, and arming campus security forces. F&M uses all of the above options as part of its preparations, although arming is the most recent development.
Following an extensive conversation with the campus community, F&M armed DPS with college-issued 40-caliber pistols. According to William McHale, director of DPS, only the sworn officers of DPS are allowed to carry on duty, and they must sign the weapons in and out of individual gun lockers at the beginning and end of their shifts.
“Public Safety officers are required to qualify on an annual basis with their issued firearm,” McHale said, explaining the process by which officers become qualified to carry a weapon on duty. “However, DPS also mandates that the officers undergo a tactical weapons qualification course on an annual basis as well, which is completely separate from the annual qualification course.”
DPS—which is comprised of 20 sworn officers, four security officers, and four dispatchers, many of whom have prior police or law enforcement experience—is accredited by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcment Accrediation Commission (PLEAC) of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. This makes F&M one of only five colleges in Pennslvania to be so accredited.
While DPS has been armed for over a year, the first and only time an officer used his or her weapon on duty occurred just last month. According to McHale, on Sep. 15, 2015, an officer euthanized an injured deer on F&M’s Baker Campus by shooting it after making sure that the scene was secure. The deer carcass was then transported to a wolf sanctuary in Lititz.
One thing F&M did not consider, however, was allowing students and other members of the campus community to arm themselves. According to this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, universities in Texas are struggling with this possibility in response to a new law, known as SB 11, that allows anyone with a concealed handgun license to bring their weapon to school buildings and grounds. In addition, SB 11 severely restricts the rights of institutions to limit carrying on their campus.
Advocates of SB 11 argue that it will allow people to defend themselves in the event of a mass shooting, while opponents posit that it will only lead to more violence, both accidental and otherwise. (According to the TIME article, at least two of the 27 injuries that occurred during mass shootings in 2015 were the result of accidental, self-inflicted wounds by armed persons other than the assailant). At the University of Texas, students have protested the law by publicly carrying sex toys across campus.
Although students, faculty, and others did express concerns about the possibility of arming DPS during a series of public forums, according to McHale, the response has been generally positive.
“I have not observed, nor have I heard of any change in attitude toward DPS [after arming], and we continue to enjoy a great relationship with the F&M community,” he said. “I believe this is a direct result of the thorough vetting process that occurred during the arming discussion.”
Beyond arming, the College has implemented a “Run-Hide-Survive” protocol—which, as McHale points out, is recommended by the Department of Homeland Security for active shooter scenarios—as an additional safety measure. This protocol encourages community members to seek an escape route in the event of a shooting, to hide or seek shelter, and to fight, but only as a last resort; they also suggest, of course, to call DPS immediately.
For more information on active shootings and F&M’s “Run-Hide-Survive” protocol, follow this link to view a presentation prepared by DPS.