Weapons carried by campus police may spike gun violence

Over the course of the Fall 2013 semester, numerous community forums were held on Villanova’s campus to discuss the issue of a potential expansion of the public safety department from its current state to a fully-equipped law enforcement agency.  Instead of dealing simply with residence hall security and parking violations, this new public safety, a police force in its essence, would be able to conduct follow-up investigations and file criminal charges.  They could also be equipped with handcuffs, batons, pepper spray and firearms.

The question of armed officers on school campuses is a hot-button issue in a country where gun violence and mass shootings are becoming all too commonplace.  In the year 2014, one month old so far, there have been seven school shootings, two of which occurred on college campuses.  One incident involving Purdue University students resulted in the killing of 21-year-old Andrew Boldt within a university classroom.  On Jan. 20, a student in the parking lot of Widener University’s athletic center was shot while sitting in a car.  Widener’s campus is in Chester, Pa., only 15 miles from Villanova.

As gun violence continues unabated in the United States, it is responsible for the faculty to seriously analyze the current safety situation on campus and attempt to address the potential threat of an attack on the student body.  Public safety is the logical place to start.  Yet the question becomes: Does the decrease in response time gained by placing firearms in the hands of a new campus police force outweigh the added risk of a potential misuse of these weapons against students?

The most convincing, and possibly the only, argument for an armed Villanova campus police is the issue of response time in the case of a catastrophe like a campus shooting. Our only option currently is be to dial 911 and wait for local police to arrive at the scene.  With a revamped University campus police, armed officers would already be present and therefore able to arrive at such a crime scene more quickly.

This logic may seem sound at first, yet upon further reflection the argument begins to hold less weight.  If there were some sort of armed criminal on Villanova’s campus, even armed campus police officers would be unable to prevent the person from carrying out his or her destructive plan without pre-emptive measures such as metal detectors.  Armed campus police would still be largely reactionary, even in the direst situations, making the minutes saved seem trivial.  Radnor police seems sufficient in this grave situation.

Most frightening is the prospect of an altercation between an armed campus police officer and a student.  Chances are good that, for the most part, this new police force will interact mostly with Villanova students, while they walk to and from classrooms, dorms and dining halls during weekdays, or while they stumble to and from taxicabs on weekend nights.  Currently, all a public safety officer can do is reason with a student whom they might suspect is up to no good.  There is never any physical confrontation; if special help is needed, local police can be contacted.  It is a policy that may make it more difficult to catch underage drunk college kids, but it has directly resulted into zero student deaths.

What might a campus police officer equipped with handcuffs, a baton, pepper spray and a firearm do in certain situations?  Attempt to arrest a student on campus who seems to be violating the law?  Blind or beat a student who seems too aggressive?  Shoot and kill a student who seems to be acting too violently?  In December of last year, a senior at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, was shot and killed by a campus police officer after being pulled over for speeding early on a Friday morning.  When firearms are added to the equation, aggression is amplified on all sides, turning what could have been a harmless encounter into a potentially deadly one.

There are plenty of armed campus police forces at schools around the country, and in some cases they may be necessary and effective.  In the wake of a nationwide spike in gun violence in places of education, it is understandable, as well as noble, for the University to figure out the best way to keep its student population safe.  Yet if the school decides to employ a professional, gun-toting force of police officers to be on campus around the clock, it may be doing just the opposite.


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