8/18/2014 Chris Karlesky ’01

Trustees Decide to Arm Campus Police Officers

This magazine article is part of Summer 2014 / Issue 78
Following an eight-month campus discussion and yearlong period of research initiated by the leadership of Franklin & Marshall College, the Board of Trustees decided in June to equip the sworn campus police officers in F&M’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) with side arms to enhance the safety and security of the campus community. The officers will be equipped with the side arms beginning in September.

In September 2013, F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield called for an inclusive campus discussion about whether the College should arm its sworn officers. He invited the discussion both in the context of an ongoing phenomenon of mass shootings across the country, and also the sustained development of DPS into a professional, accredited campus police force. The president announced the Board’s decision in a June 9 email to students, faculty, professional staff and parents.

“Franklin & Marshall joins institutions across the country that have gone through a thorough process of research and self-examination and determined that arming sworn officers is appropriate for us, given the quality of our campus safety force and also the situations confronting educational institutions and law enforcement officers today,” Porterfield said. “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.”

  • arming illustration text
Throughout the campus discussion period, the College held a series of open meetings, conducted surveys, hosted several information sessions with faculty, staff, students and campus neighbors, retained external consultants, and conferred with other institutions of higher education. Campus members, alumni, parents and community members also could provide feedback through an online form. All of the information was shared with the Trustees on an ongoing basis.

The Trustees said the measure will allow the officers to provide a more effective response to threatening situations in areas they patrol. The College’s non-sworn security officers will not be armed.

“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,” said Trustee Douglas McCormack ’85, chair of the task force that recommended the decision to arm. “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.”

The campus discussions illuminated a range of perspectives the Trustees considered during the decision-making process.

“I appreciate the efforts that were made to enable the community-at-large to weigh in on this issue,” said Professor and Chair of Sociology Katherine McClelland. “We had a very thoughtful discussion at a faculty meeting last fall, prompted by the circulation of a letter several of us wrote presenting an argument against arming. A range of opinions were voiced at this meeting, and all received careful and respectful attention—including some related to concerns regarding racial biases in policing. In the end, the faculty voted to endorse the letter, recommending the Trustees not arm Public Safety.”

Other faculty and students spoke in campus forums about the arguments presented by the white paper that provided the campus with data and information about arming.

Included in the white paper was an assessment of four Top 50 liberal arts colleges that arm its officers and four that do not, enumerating such factors for consideration as: response times from local municipal police, relationships with local municipal police departments, recruitment and retention of a quality public safety force and availability of training.

Matthew Momjian ’14, director of F&M’s student-run Emergency Medical Services (EMS) during his senior year, agrees with the Board's decision to arm the officers.

“I worked very closely with DPS and have been in a number of potentially dangerous situations with them [through my role with EMS],” Momjian said. “Arming will allow them to respond more quickly instead of having to wait for other police departments to arrive. I hope the on-campus discussions were educational, and I think that the Trustees made the right decision for the safety of everyone on campus.”

F&M joins several higher education institutions in the central and eastern Pennsylvania region that equip sworn officers with firearms. These include Millersville University, Penn State-Harrisburg, Lehigh University, and York, Muhlenberg, Lafayette, Moravian, Juniata and Dickinson colleges.

The College currently requires that all officers and supervisors be trained under Act 120 in Pennsylvania, which includes a minimum of 750 hours of training, including training with firearms. This training is the same required for all municipal police in the state. In addition, all officers and supervisors are trained under a separate act that provides certification to privately employed agents to carry various types of weapons.

F&M Director of Public Safety William McHale said all of the College’s officers and supervisors graduate from a municipal police academy approved by the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Education and Training Commission, and they have all of the powers of arrest that municipal and state police officers have within their jurisdictions.

“A significant benefit of having the Department of Public Safety equipped to respond to threatening situations is that the campus officers have knowledge of the College’s faculty, staff and students and have built relationships through our strong community policing model,” McHale said.

The College’s sworn officers will take part in on- and off-campus training through August, and DPS will order equipment, construct secure storage and maintenance spaces for the firearms, and undertake a thorough legal review of policies during that time. By September, sworn officers will undergo qualification procedures—including psychological testing, diversity training, and more than 30 hours of additional training on use of the specific side arms that officers will be issued—prior to the side arms being dispensed to qualified officers.

For more information on the decision to arm F&M’s campus police officers, including answers to frequently asked questions, visit go.fandm.edu/arming-discussion.

 
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