Republication: Board [of Trustees] decides to arm Public Safety

Michelle Laxer, News Editor, February 1, 2008

The following articles are part of a series of articles republished to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Bucknellian’s publication. Read the rest here. Read this article in its original online form here.

The decision was made to arm University Public Safety officers, effective August, during last Friday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees.

It is now the job of President Brian C. Mitchell to ensure the next steps in the arming process are taken care of thoroughly, Chief Communications Officer Pete Mackey said. The University’s ad hoc task force on Public Safety arming must determine the particular circumstances involved with arming the officers. The University will hire a consultant to offer advice and help in the decision making process.

Chief of Public Safety Jason Friedberg said the firm has prior experience consulting other high education law enforcement agencies.

According to task force chairman and Chief of Staff David Myers, decisions must be made as to what sort of firearms the officers will carry, who will be armed, under what circumstances the officers will be armed, what the budget will allow and what additional training will be required of the officers.

“The Board wanted to go beyond the basic training standards that are required under state law,” Myers said.

The University is considering ongoing background checks and psychological tests for the officers.

Protocols for the use of different types of weapons must be established, and Public Safety must have agreements with the local municipality for mutual support.

These decisions will be developed up until the final presentation to Board of Trustees in April. Implementation will begin over the summer for the officers to be armed to the agreed extent in the fall.

The task force is planning and scheduling public and student forums in conjunction with Bucknell Student Government (BSG).

“[The Board] wanted the engagement of the campus community in helping discuss those decisions,” Myers said.

According to Mackey, there were many factors contributing to the Board’s decision. In Nov. 2006 Pennsylvania state legislature mandated that the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education require all public campuses within the state to have armed campus security officers. In addition the Virginia Tech Review Panel appointed by the Governor of Virginia reported that campuses need to ensure that either, on their own or with local law enforcement support, campus police would be able to respond immediately to any type of emergency. In an e-mail Monday to students, faculty and staff from Mitchell, it was stated the University and the College of the Holy Cross were the only two schools in the Patriot League with unarmed officers.

Myers said the Board considered alternatives to arming the Public Safety officers, which were limited. These alternatives would leave officers relying heavily on local law enforcement agencies.

In the case of an emergency, armed Public Safety officers would be able to respond more efficiently than local law enforcement agencies because of their knowledge of the campus, its buildings and its students. David Surgala, member of the task force and vice president of finance and administration, said Public Safety officers also understand the “culture” of a college campus better than municipalities.

The safety of unarmed officers in the line of duty was also considered.

All but one of the 15 Public Safety officers has had over four years of prior experience as an armed police officer – some with over 15 years of experience. All Public Safety officers have completed the 750-hour Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officers Academy and are considered sworn officers. They have the same powers as any state or local law enforcement official. According to the Public Safety Web site, all officers also complete at least 80 hours of mandatory in-service training each year.

According to Mackey, the Board came to their conclusion because they believe it is their responsibility. It was their “moral obligation to do everything possible to protect the safety and security of the campus community,” he said.

The Board of Trustees began discussions about arming Public Safety officers last April. They reviewed documents prepared by the ad hoc task force and the Board’s Risk Management committee. The decision to arm Public Safety was one of the many steps to increase safety on campus. Other initiatives included cell phone alerts and a newly-installed loudspeaker warning device. The decision to switch to card-access residential buildings is also to increase security.

Currently, officers carry a baton and pepper spray. According to Friedberg, they will continue to carry both as lower-force options. All law enforcement agencies in Union County carry .40 caliber semi-automatic pistols. The outside consultant and the public forums will help to determine what firearms the University officers will carry.

Many different opinions regarding the Board’s decision can be found within the student body.

“I think that arming public safety officers is a pretty bad idea,” Tricia Bosnic ’09 said. “It made me angry that one of the main points the Trustees made was that almost every other Patriot League school has armed officers. When did arming officers become part of keeping up with the Joneses?”

Other students feel arming the officers is necessary to be prepared. Even though Jacob Krizan ’08 won’t see armed officers before he graduates, he said it would give him peace of mind to know they have the means to protect the students in a bad situation.

“It’s important to have authorities on campus with a deterrent so that people know a situation can be contained,” said Krizan.

Some see no issues with armed officers.

“There is no reason why we can’t trust Public Safety officers with weapons any less than we trust our state and town police officers,” Noelle Hawthorne ’10 said.

Stacey Featherstone ’09, despite her trust in the officers, still doesn’t support the decision.

“I am not convinced that this is a necessary move for the limited change in security it would bring,” she said. “The money would be better spent educating students … so that they would recognize warning signs in their peers. This would perhaps stop tragedy before it happens. Even with firearms, public safety will not prevent the first shot.”

Morgane Treanton ’09 is more concerned about the underlying message of campus safety. “It’s scary knowing we actually need weapons to be safe,” Treanton said.

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