The University is currently considering transitioning a portion of its Public Safety Department to a full-service law enforcement agency. Community forums were held over the past two weeks for students, faculty and staff to address the myriad issues surrounding this complex decision.
Ken Valosky, vice president for administration and finance, and David Tedjeske, director of Public Safety, hosted the forums to inform the University community and to answer the questions of the students, faculty and staff.
They met with University President Rev. Peter Donahue, O.S.A., this summer to discuss the possibility of the transition.
They both stressed that no official decision has been made on this issue, nor is a decision imminent.
“The Public Safety Department is not a law enforcement agency and they are not defensively armed,” Valosky said. “This gives us pause in a world where tragic events happen, and as we know colleges and universities are not immune. We are looking into what is the right model for Public Safety as we seek the continued safety of our community.”
According to Tedjeske, the Public Safety Department is currently responsible for patrol and emergency response, investigations, residence hall security, parking, campus shuttles and security for special events; however, in emergency situations the department still depends on voluntary community interaction due to their lack of legal authority.
“We have to call 911 just like you would in case of an emergency,” Tedjeske said. “We cannot have access to Radnor’s frequency because of our status, and that is certainly not a model for how we want to plan for the future. Our legal authority to use force is limited to defending ourselves or another person, which places us in a purely reactive mode. We feel that this is a problem.”
If the transition occurs, 37 positions in the Public Safety Department would be upgraded from private security to police officers. These officers would be the primary police force on campus with the ability to respond to emergency calls, conduct follow-up investigations and file criminal charges using a “victim-centered” approach.
The officers would also potentially be armed with handcuffs, pepper spray, batons and firearms.
Due to shift scheduling, approximately four to six armed officers would be on campus at a time. The potential for Public Safety officers to become gun-carrying police officers was a hot topic of debate during the public forum last Wednesday.
Tim Horner, a professor in the Center for Peace and Justice Education, expressed his concern about what kind of impact the presence of firearms would have on the University community.
“When you arm someone, everything becomes a life or death situation, everything gets ramped up,” he said. “Is it worth it for us to arm our security guards for the chance that there is a lone shooter? These are scenarios that blur the larger issue. I don’t want to be on this campus if there are armed cops walking around. I’ve been on this campus for years, and that is not Villanova. Public Safety is part of our community, and arming them with firearms changes that relationship and makes it more adversarial. I am happy to have Radnor [Police Department] take that role.”
Student Body Vice President Sean Dolan also expressed concern over having armed police officers on campus, asking whether or not there was a middle ground between the University’s current security guards and a full-service law enforcement agency.
“We might decide that the model we are using now is appropriate, we might decide to have armed officers, or we might decide on a hybrid model,” Valosky said.
According to Tedjeske, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators has guidelines for becoming a full-service police force. The University achieved IACLEA accreditation in 2011 after complying 226 professional industry standards.
“These standards do not speak to legal authority or to a hybrid scenario, but to industry best practices,” Tedjeske said. Both Valosky and Tedjeske acknowledged the dangers of having firearms present on campus.
“Is there a possibility that by putting a firearm into an officer’s hand, that there can be mistakes?” Valosky said. “Yes. So how do we manage that? We recognize the gravity of what we’re talking about and genuinely want input and feedback from the community and University. I don’t want to use the trite word liability. We are talking about lives. The disadvantages and dangers are being looked at. I think the community weighing in more than these forums is appropriate.”
The crowd also expressed concern about a possible reduction in the reports of incidents involving alcohol or drugs if Public Safety became a full-service law enforcement agency with the ability to issue citations and make arrests.
“From a student perspective, I would think there would be less reporting on drugs and alcohol,” one student said.
Tedjeske insists there will not be a change in how Public Safety officers handle situations involving drugs and alcohol.
“I think this is one of those things that will have to prove itself out, when students see that things aren’t going to be handled differently,” he said.
If the decision is made to make the Public Safety Department a full-service law enforcement agency, preparation will take one year to 15 months and implementation will take three to five years due to the training that officers will have to undergo to become police officers. The Radnor Police Department would also still have jurisdiction on the University’s campus.