Under the gun

December 12th, 2013

On Thursday, Dec. 5, John Carroll University Campus Safety Services announced that it was becoming an armed campus police department. The Office of the President released a statement from the Rev. Robert L. Niehoff, S.J. announcing CSS will be renamed the John Carroll University Police Department and will exercise its right to carry guns.

The changes, financed by the overall University budget, will be enacted on Jan. 1, 2014.

Faculty, staff and students have anticipated this announcement ever since the proposal was first revealed back in October 2012.

In the message from the president emailed to JCU faculty, staff and students at JCU, Niehoff stated: “The decisions first to train and now arm campus police officers is the culmination of analysis and reflection.”

According to University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld, the city has been working with the University for the past three years in accordance with a mutual aid agreement struck between the two entities.

Under the agreement, the city and the University conducted joint training and consulted with one another on safety and security policies.

Niehoff approached Infeld to weigh the positives and negatives of arming campus police.

“Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J. recognized a need to keep students safe on campus because of so many incidents of violence on college campuses,” said Infeld. “Part of the mutual aid agreement was to meet this need.”

After several meetings between Niehoff and Infeld, as well as UH’s Chief of Police Steven Hammett and Director of Campus Safety Services Timothy Peppard, the team decided arming campus police officers would create a safer atmosphere for JCU students, faculty, staff and administrators.

Vice President for Student Affairs Mark McCarthy said one of the University’s main focuses over the last few years has been moving the overall safety and security force to one that was much more skilled – resembling a comprehensive police model.

“When Chief Peppard was appointed to being the chief of Campus Safety Services, there were a great deal of acts of violence happening on campuses across the country,” said McCarthy.

In an email released from JCU’s Media Relations department, Chief Peppard said that the University hired him with the intention of building up the police force on campus.

“I was directed to create a plan to transition to a more comprehensive policing model about five years ago,” said Peppard. “There was a certain percentage of the officers that were Ohio certified police officers, but there were also a lot that were not. Some have left and others have gone through the police academy. It was a conscious effort to build the skill set and the experience of the professionalization of the overall Campus Safety Services.”

Since then, the University has been taking steps to have stronger training and development for all of the new officers and certify all of them under the state of Ohio.

All 17 officers certified as Peace Officers – or law enforcement officers – in the State of Ohio will be armed with a handgun at all times while on duty.

“We have sworn, trained police officers who we are asking to keep our campus and community safe,” said Garry Homany, director of regulatory affairs and risk management, through an emailed statement. “We must give them the tools needed to protect us and keep themselves safe.”

Both Hammett and Infeld said JCU’s statutory police agency has the same rights as any other police department.

“As a recognized police force, JCU’s campus police already had the ability and authority to exercise carrying firearms,” said Infeld. “If the campus police encounter someone who’s armed, they’re at a disadvantage.”

Hammett not only recognized JCU’s need for the officers to carry firearms, but their right in accordance to state law.

“As a statutory police agency that’s responsible for protecting the campus, they should be armed with any equipment to protect the student body, staff and visitors of John Carroll,” said Hammett.

Richard Clark, criminologist and associate professor of sociology and criminology at JCU, agreed that it’s time for campus police to be armed.

“If there’s a shooter on campus, what are they supposed to do? Remain defenseless?” said Clark. “They’re police officers. They have training – and a lot of them are auxiliary officers. I see no downside to arming them.”

McCarthy said the decision to implement firearms on campus was made in order to strengthen safety and security measures on campus.

“Ever since Virginia Tech and high school situations such as Chardon High School, the most critical factor is being able to respond to the highest level of emergency,” said McCarthy.

Since Niehoff’s statement was released to the JCU community, McCarthy said the Office of the President has received little reaction.

“There were four emails to the President’s office within the day the announcement came out,” said McCarthy. “Three of them were supportive and thanking the president for making the decision. One of them wasn’t supportive. The one that wasn’t supportive focused on the Catholic mission and peace.”

Before the University passed the proposal to arm campus police, the administration looked at other institutions with similar demographics to JCU, as well as other Jesuit universities.

“Most of the Jesuit universities’ campuses do have police that carry guns,” said McCarthy. “For example, Marquette University has been armed for over 10 years.”

Similarly, JCU’s neighbor, Notre Dame College, has had an armed police force for over eight years.

“The College endorses this policy for its Ohio Certified Peace Officers to support their work of protecting the safety of students, staff, faculty and visitors to campus,” said NDC Chief of Police Jeffrey Scott.

Another smaller Ohio college, Marietta College, has an armed police force. Marietta’s campus underwent a similar process as JCU.

“Before we armed the Marietta College Police Department, every officer went through rigorous training and exceeded the criteria established by most city police departments,” said Chief of Marietta College Police Department Jim Weaver. “It was important to show our campus partners that we understood the importance of being armed and also that we were highly skilled. To be able to fully protect the Marietta College campus, we needed to have the tools to do our job to the fullest, and that includes being armed.”

Other local colleges, such as Baldwin Wallace University, have argued against arming campus police forces.

“People are afraid because it destroys the sense that a college campus is different,” said Clark. “In an ideal world, you don’t need police officers on campus with guns.”

Students, staff and faculty have expressed concerns.

McGinn has been vocal about her opposition to the proposal since its initial announcement last year. One of her main concerns deals with storing the guns.

“Security is never 100 percent,” said McGinn. “I understand Chief Peppard is doing all sorts of precautions. We’ve talked about it. But, there’s just no way to make sure somebody won’t be able to break in. People are clever. Especially people on a mission.”

McCarthy assured the JCU community that storing the guns in a safe place was all part of the planning process, and the weapons will be stored in a secured location on campus monitored 24/7 by cameras.

Many have also questioned what the protocol is for pulling a firearm on a student.

Sophomore Jane Kosko is anxious about an officer pulling a gun on a student.

“I’m concerned because I get nervous about students who are drinking and they’re walking around, and the cop doesn’t know they’re a student and a cop pulls their gun out,” said Kosko.

Senior Michael Hager expressed his confusion and concerns about the new changes.

“I just don’t understand why they feel it’s a necessity to have,” said Hager. “I’m afraid they’re going to shoot some drunk student some day.”

McCarthy said he wants the community to know an officer will only pull a firearm in the absolute worst case scenario.

“The University worked diligently with a University Heights police consultant and former director of the United States Secret Service to create a use of force policy,” said McCarthy.

The other part of the University’s use of force policy includes how they will respond when a weapon is pulled.

“One of the things we wanted to do is have an external person in case that happens,” said McCarthy. “That person will be chief of police for University Heights. He will conduct the investigation if a weapon is ever drawn or utilized.”

McCarthy also addressed students’ concerns about how campus police will handle intoxicated students.

“I can’t imagine an officer pulling a gun on an intoxicated student. The manner in which they respond now is how they will respond then,” said McCarthy. “The officers will continue to carry additional defensive weapons including batons and pepper spray, but having firearms allow us the capacity to respond quickly and accurately.”

Although one of the primary intentions behind this initiative is to create a safer and more secure campus, some students don’t feel any safer with these new precautions.

Hager expressed his doubts about the guns adding to a safer feel throughout campus.

“I don’t agree with the decision, and I don’t think it will make students feeling any safer,” said Hager.

However, other faculty, staff and students, such as Clark, see the need for this extra means of security.

“Crime is down, violent crime is down and gun crime is down,” said Clark. “On the other hand, it still happens. Mass shootings have gone up. The greatest fear is a mass shooting – someone who is out to do a lot of damage.”

Although some students don’t feel any safer on campus, others are appreciative that campus police are prepared for any potential threats.

“I think it’s a good idea in case there’s someone we don’t want on campus and they’re equipped to take care of them,” said sophomore Sarah Price. “A lot of bigger schools arm their campus police, so I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Sophomore Kevin Vogl has taken a similar stance.

“If the circumstances ever came down to it, at least we are prepared to handle that sort of thing. If there was an armed gunman on campus, at least we have the necessary tools to fight back,” said Vogl.

“Although you never want to look at the worst possible situation, I think it would be naïve not to do that at times,” said McCarthy.

Some students, including Hager, have also raised questions why the campus needs an armed police force when UHPD is within such close proximity.

McCarthy recognized that the city’s police forces are nearby, but stressed the University’s goal to handle crime as efficiently as possible.

“UHPD are not that far away,” McCarthy said. “But seconds count. That’s been proven over time and time again on various incidents that occur here. For us to have an incident on campus and our campus safety officers to not be equipped or respond to protect the community at large as quickly as possible puts us at risk of the greatest loss there could be – the loss of life.”

Although administration and many faculty, staff and students recognize weapons will only be used in the worst possible circumstance, they want others to realize that acts of violence occur.

“You can’t live in a bubble and think it doesn’t happen,” said Clark. “It happens, and you have to be prepared.