MCLA Talks With Students About Arming Campus PoliceBy Andy McKeever
06:42PM / Monday, May 09, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts sought out student opinions Monday on arming campus police.
Public Safety Director Joseph Charon outlined the reasons campus police need to carry lethal force.
School administrators want to present the idea to the campus community before developing a full proposal, according to college President Mary Grant, and invited the students to an on-campus forum Monday afternoon. Public Safety Director Joseph Charon presented the reasons behind giving campus officers guns.
"The campus police officers here at MCLA are sworn and warranted police officers. If you've been in orientation sessions, you'd hear me say that they can do the same things and they are responsible for doing the same things that the police are," Charon said. "We can't just stand by and watch crime happen without doing anything. Right now, we're missing a level of force, we're missing a tool that completes our duty to act."
The officers are not currently armed and therefore if a situation warrents lethal force, the school must call in either city or state police, he said, which could cause delays in action. Additionally the lack of guns creates a "disparity" of force that limits the officer's ability to respond appropriately to protect themselves and others, he said.
"One of the things we face on a daily basis is the unexpected and the unknown. We don't know what's going to happen," Charon said. "A suspect or an assailant could have a higher level of force than what we're able to respond to. If we have to stop at a certain level and say 'OK, we can't respond anymore' that puts us at jeopardy and it also transfers down to all of you as community members."
The campus is continually expanding and officers are required to respond further away from the main campus and into the city, which could expose the officers to more dangerous situations, he said.
Charon also cited a growing number of shooter attacks in the country. From the Virginia Tech shooting to Columbine High School to the Fort Hood Army Base, the incidents have triggered institutions to plan to handle those cases. However, the college cannot plan a proper response, he said.
"These things are happening. They are present in our world," Charon said. "At our current level, the MCLA campus police would not be prepared to respond to those types of incidences."
While Charon said he did not have actual figures readily available to support the claim, he said law enforcement is noticing a growing number of aggravated assault cases including those with weapons. In December, there was an armed robbery at one of the campus townhouses, but that was not a catalyst for the proposal, said Grant.
"I'm glad that there was no crisis that led to this," Grant said. "There really was no one incident that made us say 'let's get this conversation going.'"
Grant said an early estimate to purchase the weapons and related material as well as training the school's eight officers is $17,000, which the school could seek from state or federal grants. Additional ongoing costs of liability insurance and continued training have not been estimated because it is too early in the process, she said.
College President Mary Grant said school officials are very early in the process but wanted to get the conversation started before summer break so students would have a chance to voice concerns.
"You will not show up on campus in September and there will be armed officers," Grant said. "We just wanted to get the conversation going before the students left for break."
Campus police will build a more complete proposal during the summer; they held Monday's meeting to find concerns that need to be addressed. Grant said a meeting will also be held in June for campus neighbors.
Students were mixed in their opinions. While some spoke in favor of it – looking for the school to be proactive – others feared that it would only create more tension between the students and officers. A few said they would not trust campus police with weapons.
Charon responded that officers will receive the most training possible. Six out of the eight officers have worked or currently work for municipal police forces and have the knowledge and experience to handle the weapons, he said.
Below is a Ustream of the meeting by the MCLA Beacon; it begins after the advertisement.