Beginning in September, Franklin & Marshall College will equip its sworn campus police officers in the Department of Public Safety with side arms to safeguard the safety and security of members of the campus community.
The College's Board of Trustees decided during a business meeting on June 9 that the College will provide side arms to the sworn members of the public safety department to enable officers to provide a higher level of protection in areas they patrol, and to allow for an even more effective response to threatening situations. Non-sworn officers will continue to provide security functions and will not be armed.
The decision is the outcome of a year-long exploration that began in early 2013 with a research phase, and included an eight-month campus-wide discussion initiated by the College's leadership and completed by a Trustees' Task Force on the Question of Arming. F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield in September 2013 called for an inclusive campus conversation on the question of whether the College should arm its sworn officers.
"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 in announcing the decision in an email to students, faculty, professional staff and parents.
"I want to thank each and every member of our community for their participation in a comprehensive and inclusive process that allowed the College and its trustees to hear the many perspectives on this complex issue," Porterfield added. "I also want to thank the Board of Trustees for engaging the diverse views of the campus and the surrounding community to reach a decision that they deemed to be best for Franklin & Marshall."
The decision whether or not to arm rests with the College's board because of its ultimate responsibility for policies promoting the security of the campus community, the effective management of legal risk and liability, and compliance with relevant local, state and federal laws.
Throughout the campus discussion period, the College conducted research, held a series of open meetings, collected feedback online and through surveys, hosted several information sessions with faculty, staff, students and community neighbors, retained external consultants, and consulted with other higher-education institutions. The content of the discussions was shared with trustees on an ongoing basis.
To ensure the best understanding of the campus perspectives gathered in the College's exploratory process, the Board in January convened a task force that held additional campus forums, met one-on-one with faculty, students and administrators, reviewed relevant practices at other institutions, and consulted with campus safety experts before recommending to the Board that F&M arm its sworn officers.
"The trustees took very seriously our responsibility to look at the question objectively and analytically to decide how best to ensure the safety and security of the campus community," said Trustee Doug McCormack, a 1985 alumnus and chair of the trustees task force that recommended the decision to arm.
"If we think about the safety and security of the more than 3,000 people on the F&M campus every day, we recognize that the needs and tactics for ensuring their safety and security necessarily change and evolve over time," McCormack said. "Thirty years ago, our dorms were not locked during the day, our classrooms were not locked during the day; there was no key fob system that ensured that only students could gain access to these sites. To protect our community, we have to be prepared to evolve."
F&M joins several higher education institutions in the Lancaster and Central and Eastern Pennsylvania region that equip sworn officers with firearms, McCormack noted. These include Millersville University, Penn State-Harrisburg, Lehigh University, and York, Muhlenberg, Lafayette, Moravian, Juniata and Dickinson colleges.
The arming discussion arose at F&M in part from a public safety and security assessment performed in Spring 2012 by the campus safety firm Margolis, Healy & Associates that found that students, faculty and staff expect the same level of protection from F&M public safety officers as they believe they would receive from municipal officers. Existing College protocols call for unarmed DPS officers to "safely monitor a high-risk situation from a distance and call for assistance from the local police" (known as a disengagement policy).
When announcing the campus conversation last fall, Porterfield noted that he was inviting the campus arming discussion both in the context of an ongoing phenomenon of mass shootings across the country, and also the sustained development of the College's Department of Public Safety into a professional, accredited campus police force.
"We're beginning from a strong position, because DPS already has a trained and accredited police department," F&M Director of Public Safety William McHale said. "All of our 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 any municipal or state police officer has within their jurisdiction."
Most of public safety's sworn personnel are experienced with carrying firearms as part of their duties as a police officer prior to coming to F&M and, in some cases, in a current part-time job working for a municipal police department, McHale said. For their work at F&M, officers will be expected to complete annual qualifications for firearms safety, exceeding the state requirement for qualification every five years.
The College currently requires that all officers and supervisors be trained under Act 120, and in Pennsylvania, this requires 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 Act 235, which provides certification to privately employed agents to carry various types of weapons.
"A significant benefit of having the F&M 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. "Our officers are trained law enforcement officers and now have another tool in our toolbox to serve the campus."
An approximate three-month implementation timeline begins with on- and off-campus training of F&M's sworn officers through August. The Department of Public Safety also will order equipment, construct secure storage and maintenance spaces for the firearms, and have policies and procedures undergo a thorough legal review during this time. By September, sworn members of DPS 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 issued to qualified officers.
Porterfield expressed appreciation for the vigilance of the Department of Public Safety for all that it does to safeguard the security of the community.
"I want to thank our public safety officers for their ongoing professionalism and dedication, and for being open and available to respond to any and all questions from the community during this exploratory process," he said.