UPD chief supports arming campus officers

University Police Department Chief Dolores Stafford recommended in a national safety report she co-authored that college police officers should carry firearms.

The document released last week by the International Association for Campus Law Enforcement Administrators states that “sworn law enforcement agency . should have access to a range of force options including lethal (firearms).” Stafford was formerly president of the organization.

While she would not speak in detail on her personal support of arming GW’s 33 sworn UPD officers, Stafford told The Hatchet, “It is something I think the administration should consider and talk about.”

The “IACLEA Blueprint for Safer Campuses” was presented at a Princeton University conference, and is the culmination of various campus safety reports issued after the Virginia Tech shootings last year. Six campus security chiefs from various universities, including Stafford, co-authored the document.

IACLEA President Ray Thrower said the firearm recommendation is one of the most salient points in the report. He compared an unarmed campus police force to a “fire department with no fire truck.”

Stafford submitted the report’s suggestions to GW’s recently formed Campus Safety, Security, Mental Health and Violence Prevention committee – which will decide whether to act on the findings. Robert Chernak, senior vice president for student activities and support services, chairs this committee.

“In addition to recommendations that may come forward from this committee, obviously further venting would take place among several members of the GW community, including the senior administrative staff,” Chernak wrote in an e-mail. He said he doesn’t expect any changes to UPD procedure based “solely upon reaction to the IACLEA recommendations.”

Thrower and Stafford both cited a recently released study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, which puts GW’s unarmed officers in the minority. The study found that during the 2004-2005 academic year, nearly 90 percent of universities that employed sworn officers armed them as well.

“The officer needs to be able to have the tools to defend themselves or a third party,” Thrower said. He said that especially in the wake of campus shooting incidents like Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, many college campuses are reevaluating their policies and are in the process of arming their police departments.

Arming officers could potentially increase campus safety by decreasing the response time it takes an outside police force to reach a crime scene, Thrower said.

“A majority of people have said they feel better knowing that their campus officers are armed,” he said.

Along with the firearm recommendation, the IACLEA report included 19 other ideas to boost campus safety across the country. Among them were recommendations to establish behavioral threat assessment teams and training campus police officers at the emergency medical technician level to better respond to victims.

Stafford said while GW already has several of these policy recommendations in practice, others require considerable funding that UPD “would have to request.” She said that arming officers would imply further potential costs in equipment and officer retraining.

Stafford said the issue of arming officers has not been discussed in her 15 years at GW and if a change is made, it would be done at a senior level of the University administration.

She said, “As these recommendations are looked at, it’s something that I think the administration is certainly going to consider and look at the pros and cons of such a recommendation.”

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