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CSS puts safety first: Campus Safety Services seeking permission to carry guns

October 4th, 2012

The possibility of Campus Safety Service officers carrying guns dominated conversation during a campus safety forum held on Wednesday, Sept. 26 in the Jardine Room of the Lombardo Student Center. Officials from CSS said the goal of the entire forum was to provide comprehensive information; in addition to the discussion on providing campus police with firearms, other topics included recent crime statistics and the discussion about University’s mutual aid agreement with University Heights Police Department.

Specifically about the issue of arming campus police officers, assistant director of CSS Brian Hurd said such a decision would have an enormous impact.

“We just want the campus to know that that step might be coming, and here’s why we think that’s important and what we’ve done to prepare for it,” Hurd said on Monday.

The decision ultimately rests with John Carroll University President, the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J. He said that given the recent rise of violent crimes on college campuses and in society in general, equipping CSS officers with guns is something University administrators must consider.

“After investigating what other campuses in Ohio were doing, we agreed, the vice presidents and I, that we should consider changing our policy in support of arming our officers because it would allow our police to be first responders,” Niehoff said via email.

Niehoff said the University’s board of directors will hear a report about the forum later this month.

“I anticipate that, after further consultations, I will make a decision in the spring semester,” he said. “It is still not clear when we could implement a decision to provide firearms to our public safety officers. I anticipate that the discussions we continue to have this fall will provide further detail to a practical implementation timeline, if we go in that direction.”

The possible move to arming campus police is the next step of a plan that has been in the works for the last five years, CSS Chief Tim Peppard told the attendees at last Wednesday’s forum, which included faculty, staff, administrators and students. Other components of the plan included promotion of officers to increase supervisory coverage, re-tooling job descriptions and the department’s mission, creating new reporting forms, expanding the department’s office space and updating the alarm system and communications systems in the campus dispatch center.

During the presentation last Wednesday, Hurd told those in attendance that all CSS officers are certified by the state of Ohio, which involved approximately 630 hours of training per person. The training includes, among other things, education in criminal law, criminal procedure and crime prevention and a course in firearms proficiency, safety and shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, he said. In addition, the state also requires each officer to complete 2-10 hours of professional training per year. Hurd said CSS officers went above those requirements – in 2011, officers completed 214 hours of training, which averages to approximately 14 hours per officer. In 2012, CSS officers have gone through 145 training hours so far.

Acquiring firearms for use by campus police requires a secure place to store them, officials at the forum stressed. In an interview on Monday, Hurd said that would require CSS to purchase new lockers, either lockable bins in each officer’s individual locker or a separate bank of gun lockers.

Garry Homany, the University’s director of regulatory affairs and risk management, gave a presentation during the forum on the potential risks JCU might face with or without arming CSS officers. He said CSS has had the power to arm officers since September of 2000, when the department received certification as a law enforcement authority under a change to the Ohio Revised Code.

The expectation when someone calls CSS, Homany said, is that an officer will respond. Even if the call involves a violent crime, an officer is expected to respond if he or she is unarmed.

“That’s kind of like showing up to a gun fight with a knife,” Homany said. “There’s a good chance […] that someone could get hurt, or – worst case – someone could be killed.  There’s a liability for John Carroll associated with that.”

In addition, Homany explained the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Act’s general duty clause, which states, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to his employees.” According to the OSHA website, courts interpret the clause to mean employers need to provide safe working environments when they are able to minimize the issues causing unsafe conditions.

“You need to provide them with engineering controls, and/or personal protective equipment and/or training such that they can mitigate the hazard or avoid the hazard,” Homany said of the law. “So there’s a liability on John Carroll right there.”

Junior Rachael Greuber said the forum came up in conversation during one of her sociology and criminology classes. She is in favor of arming CSS officers.

“I don’t see how they’re expected to respond if they don’t have any weapons to protect themselves or us,” Greuber said.

Homany also named local universities and schools that are members of the Ohio Athletic Conference as institutions with armed police forces: Case Western Reserve University, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University, Lakeland Community College, Notre Dame College, Capital University, Otterbein University and Muskingum University.

The Rev. Valentino Lassiter, a part-time faculty member in the department of theology and religious studies and JCU’s pastor-in-residence, used to work at Cleveland State, where he said armed police was a need. He attended the forum and said it was a good start for conversation on the issue.

“I think, on the campus, there’s not been enough communication regarding safety issues. So, I commend Campus Safety [Services] for at least beginning the conversation,” he said. “I just hope that we’ll have more conversations to keep the clarity at a high rate.”

When asked for his position on the issue of arming CSS officers, Lassiter said there are arguments on both sides. “My only concern about the pro [arguments] might be that we don’t appear to be overly militaristic,” he said. “I know there’s a safety concern and, in some places, it has to be done.”

“And, it may be a sign of the times,” Lassiter added.

Officials at last Wednesday’s forum stressed that point, noting recent instances of school shootings that had occurred relatively close to JCU. The most recent local incidents include a gunman opening fire inside Case’s Peter B. Lewis Building in 2003 and at Chardon High School last spring. Presenters said that minutes in those situations matter.

“It became quite clear from the presentation that, in the event of a shooting on campus, waiting for nearby police personnel to respond is simply not a viable option, given how long it would take University Heights to get to campus,” said Lindsay Calkins, associate dean in the Boler School of Business, via email.

Sheila McGinn, chair of the department of theology and religious studies, said that while she appreciated Peppard’s point of view, the presentation of the idea came across like a sales pitch during the forum.

“I was a little surprised at the amount of levity that came across in some of the remarks because, to me, whether you’re going to have an arsenal on campus is a pretty serious question,” she said.

Junior Ty McTigue said the presentation during the forum wasn’t what he expected. He questioned the group’s presentation skills, wondering why details were not available at this point.

“Wouldn’t you come to the presentation prepared for those kinds of questions?” he asked.

McGinn also found disturbing the fact that only some student groups were consulted. She said she didn’t hear anything about minority students being asked their opinions on this issue. The same goes for the faculty, she said.

While faculty members sit on University committees that may have discussed this issue, they merely watch as observers, she added.

“If you wanted to consult the faculty, you’d be talking to the president of the Faculty Council. You wouldn’t be counting on one representative who was not elected for the purpose of representing the entire faculty, sitting in on somebody else’s meeting three times a year,” McGinn said.

Anne Kugler, a professor of history and current president of the Faculty Council, said that the issue did not come up in a formal way during the council’s governance procedure. She said part of the question is whether faculty could participate in the discussions and become fully informed on the issue.

On her personal view of the issue, she said her opinion is “unfortunately” evolving.

“Things are changing on an apparently daily basis on how one regards firearms and how one regards them in public safety on a campus,” Kugler said.

Hurd said after the forum that he expects to give the presentation again at an upcoming Student Union meeting. He said faculty may want to hear the presentation again as well.