In what situations should college or university campus police be armed?
College campuses often operate like small communities – or even like large communities depending on enrolment. Although each college and university campus is unique, there are commonalities such as a young and vulnerable population of students, many living away from their parents for the first time. Campuses can be urban or rural, geographically dispersed or densely populated, with a variety of demographics and “wild card” elements such as partying, drugs and alcohol. Campus police and security officers face a variety of challenging environments. Is it wise to add firearms to the mix? Is it necessary for campus police to be armed? Specifically, we asked this week’s Expert Panel: In what situations should college or university campus police be armed?
Campus police should always be armed, provided they are sworn officers (authorised under statute as law enforcement officers and part of a commissioned police agency). These individuals should be equipped with firearms, trained in defensive use of those weapons, and prepared to use deadly force. My opinion is that non-sworn security officers should not have use of deadly force. In fact, it is sobering even to consider the use of non-lethal weapons, such as batons, pepper spray, and tasers. These individuals provide a proactive component to the campus security program in providing a security presence, instruction in security practices, reporting and documentation, and the ability to alert sworn officers, should the need arise.
There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. with more than 20 million students. Campus administrators are responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for them all. Campus police need to be prepared for any and all types of incidents – and that requires an armed law enforcement presence at all times. As a result of the ongoing security concerns and challenges on today’s campuses, all colleges and universities should have certified police officers assigned to their campuses. Any college or university unable to have its own campus police force should reach out to local law enforcement agencies and have a mutual agreement to have police assigned to the campus.
The trend is toward more colleges and universities using armed police officers to provide law enforcement on campus, with a higher percentage (91%) of public institutions using armed officers compared to private institutions (36%). These numbers are from a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. They reflect an increase from 68% to 75% using armed officers among campuses that were also contacted for a 2005 survey. The numbers also show that more than 41% of campuses used both sworn (with full arrest powers) and unsworn police officers, presumably matched to appropriate duties for each. Officers were armed in 9 out of 10 of campuses using sworn officers. Among campuses using only unsworn officers, only one in 10 were armed. The idea of unsworn officers being armed raises obvious concerns.
If armed simply means equipped with weapons then yes. Officers responsible for quelling physical threats of violence should be equipped and trained. This means responding quickly with proportionate force for minimal injury to all involved. A tough call. If it is judged they be equipped only with non-lethal arms to help dissuade or incapacitate likely assailants then pepper spray and baton may suffice. It is interesting to reflect that in the UK our police are only normally “armed” with similar non-lethal weapons. It has kept a relatively peaceful society for hundreds of years. Some tasers are now deployed. Nonetheless, “armed” often suggests firearms. We rely on quick-response specialist armed police. Routinely armed campus cops would cause public outrage. Marauding gunmen in colleges have been zero. The plan is to contain, monitor and await armed police. To change UK culture would be as monumental as the US getting rid of its guns. Bets anyone?
I believe security officers on college and university campuses should ALWAYS be armed. In fact, there should be no such thing as an “unarmed guard” anywhere. A lot of people live, work and recreate on a college campus, and many people visit campuses every day and every night. Anywhere a lot of people congregate – especially college-age young men and women – there is a higher than average propensity for criminal activity. By properly selecting, training and arming campus security officers, you provide them with the essential tools they need to reasonably protect the people and property on a campus as well as themselves against a deadly-force threat. Naturally, all security officers must be carefully selected, professionally-certified and properly trained to carry firearms. This also means they have to be paid a living wage with reasonable benefits.
Responsible use of firearms by well-trained and sworn police officers makes sense as a force for good on college campuses, several of our panellists agree. Even when seeking to eschew firearms, it is necessary to arm campus police with various non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray or a baton. Confrontations between police officers and citizens are making headlines in the U.S., and one recent case involved a University of Cincinnati police officer charged with murder. Could a backlash develop? There was a protest when Portland State University in Oregon implemented an armed police force last year. Perhaps the best way to avoid a backlash is to emphasise responsible use of firearms on our campuses – and off.
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