MCLA Approves Arming Campus Police
A Student Government Association poll showed that 68 percent of the students opposed the move.
The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to arm the school's public safety officers with guns.
The decision comes against the wishes of both the faculty and the students, both of whom overwhelmingly disapproved of firearms in separate polls.
However, nearly all of the board members said safety concerns outweigh the arguments against the proposal that first came before the board last May.
"We can't predict the future," Trustee Shirley Edgerton said. "I'd prefer to be proactive and be armed and at least ready to protect."
The implementation, set for the next school year, will come at an initial cost of $24,635 and $6,026 annually. All officers — including those who are already trained — will go through firearms training with the state Criminal Justice Training Council before carrying a weapon.
According to the school's Director of Public Safety Joseph Charon, an oversight committee will be formed and will start with reviewing and updating campus policies so that they are in line with state and federal standards. Later the department will phase in purchasing equipment with training officers. The officers will also take a suitability screening before being issued a firearm.
"A new chapter begins for the MCLA campus police," Charon said.
Trustee Richard Lamb added an amendment that calls for the school to review the decision during the first year after implementation.
The lone vote against the move was from student Trustee Jaynelle Bellemore, who cited accidental discharges and said the weapons add a "negative" and "unsafe" feelings to the campus. Arming the police would change the relationship students have with campus police, she said.
Student Trustee Jaynelle Bellemore was the lone vote against arming campus police. Students continued their protest on Friday morning, according to the MCLA Beacon, by meeting administrators with signs saying the college had ignored student voices.
However, the conversation started with a state Department of Higher Education recommendation for arming was supported by the city's Police Department. Trustees said there is a liability if the officers do not have guns.
Charon previously argued for the weapons because his department has sworn police officers with the same training and responsibilities as any other police force, particularly with their "duty to act." The campus police need to act if they see a crime anywhere and with the campus now expanding farther into the city, the officers are being put at risk if they come upon a crime, he said. Additionally, the number of violent crimes and school shootings is increasing nationally, proponents argued.
The difference between sworn officers and security guards is what swayed the vote for Trustee William Dudley, a Williams College professor who said he would not vote to arm Williams' campus but would for MCLA. Williams College is patrolled by security guards who do not have the same responsibilities.
Board Chairman Stephen Crowe said this was the "most difficult" decision the board has made in a long time and praised the nine months of conversation and study that led to the decision.
"It's been a very engaged conversation... this doesn't mean you weren't heard," Grant told the room filled with students. "I lie awake at night worrying about safety."
A report on the nine months of study from the college is available below.
MCLA Public Safety Background and Considerations
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