Many colleges arm police forces

Correction appended

As University officials discuss whether to arm campus police, security experts and administrators at other colleges say that GW is already behind the times.

Almost three-fourths of universities with a sworn police force arm their officers, according to the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey from the 2004-2005 academic year. Among the 10 largest sworn university police forces – which have full powers of arrest – GW is the only one not to carry guns.

“For a large institution to not have a fully equipped police department protecting its campus makes GW an anomaly,” said Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization advocating for campus safety.

Carter said outside police forces are at a disadvantage when reacting to calls on a college campus.

“Local police departments take longer when they are less familiar with geography,” Carter said. “Minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Anyone who has dialed 911 knows that however fast they may arrive, it seems like an eternity.”

Robin Hattersley Gray, the executive editor of Campus Safety magazine, said many colleges are assessing whether to arm their officers. Much of the discussion was prompted by the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

“In the case of Virginia Tech, most of damage and fatalities occurred before police officers got there,” Gray said. “The fact that they were armed may not have prevented it, but there are instances where it would be appropriate.”

Brown University began arming its police force in 2006, following a multi-year study of the issue. Mark Nickel, director of university communications, said the transition to an armed force garnered a small amount of dissent from the community.

“Not everybody was in favor of it,” Nickel said. “But I think the campus recognized we were asking police officers to perform public safety duties that put them in dangerous situations.”

He added, “We could not ask unequipped officers to perform the duties of a law enforcement officer.”

In the two years since Brown implemented the policy, Nickel said the reaction has been “positive” with few complaints.

A number of the campus police chiefs interviewed advocated for armed officers, but emphasized that the change should come with additional training and more stringent hiring practices.

Before Brown armed its officers, they went through an “inclusive, somewhat long process” to alter the school’s police department, Nickel said.

At Boston University, where the campus police carry guns, officers take a 22-week training program – compared to UPD’s seven weeks.

“Officers undergo the specialized training in the same police academy as every municipal police officer in Massachusetts,” Riley said.

Anthony Daykin, chief of police at the University of Arizona, a school that is protected by an armed, sworn police force, said it is imperative that firearms come alongside proper oversight and caution.

“With the caveat that there is a good selection process and the people hired to be armed are backed with sufficient training and policies, there are cost disadvantages. But that is the cost of doing business,” Daykin said. “There is not any downside to having people who are adequately selected and trained, guided by policy and in a position to protect other people.”

Daykin added that picking the right people is essential to maintaining an armed force.

“You want to make sure you are training the right person,” he said. “Candidates take polygraph tests, background checks and psychological exams. You want to be sure you have a stable individual and then you provide lots of training.”

Among universities within the District, the picture is slightly more mixed. Howard – which has the largest number of full-time sworn officers of any school in the country – arms its officers, while American and Georgetown both have un-sworn, unarmed officers.

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: (October 8, 2008)

The Hatchet attributed two quotations about Brown University to Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus. They should have been attributed to Brown spokesman Mark Nickel.

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