Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Juniata College board votes to arm campus security force.

The Juniata College Board of Trustees voted April 19 to begin the process of arming its Safety and Security Services Department. Juniata College is a Church of the Brethren school in Huntingdon, Pa., and hosts the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, one of the oldest peace studies programs in the country.

Juniata is the second Brethren school to make such a decision, following Bridgewater (Va.) College which for the past six years has employed sworn law enforcement officers who are permitted to carry guns on campus.

"In the wake of the student tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, all colleges have started re-examining their security measures and we believe arming our officers is one of a number of important steps we are implementing to be sure our campus is safe," said Juniata president Thomas R. Kepple in a press release.

The other five church related schools--Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind.; Elizabethtown (Pa.) College; Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind.; McPherson (Kan.) College; and the University of La Verne (Calif.)--do not have armed campus security. Bethany's security is provided by the Quaker-related Earlham College.

After the Virginia Tech shootings, "there were definitely questions being asked by parents," said John Wall, director of media relations for Juniata and a member of the Review Group that brought the recommendation. "It became pretty clear that parents and employees and other groups on campus wanted to look at security," he said.

Juniata reached the decision to arm its campus security "after a thorough evaluation of options," the press release said. "In April 2007, Kepple appointed a Review Group task force to evaluate Juniata's current security measures and make recommendations on changes to campus security measures. The group made a series of recommendations to improve security in August 2007. In addition, the college hired a security consultant to evaluate its overall security policies."

Juniata also recently added other measures, including a locking system for residence halls, plans to install a warning siren and to hold emergency drills, and a "notice of concern" program that allows students, faculty, or staff to identify students exhibiting signs of stress or other problematic behavior. In 2004, Juniata requested and was granted authority as a private police department by a county court, which allowed the college's security personnel to exercise full police powers in their jurisdictional areas.

At Bridgewater College, president Phillip C. Stone made the decision "to protect...students with a trained police officer," said Karen Wigginton, vice president for college relations. The college employs two sworn, certified law enforcement officers who are permitted to carry guns, and five campus safety officers who are not armed. The Bridgewater College Police Department is certified as a law enforcement agency by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The decision to have armed police on campus "has not been an issue in the past, and was embraced even more after the Virginia Tech incident," Wigginton said, when asked whether there was discussion of the college's relationship with the Church of the Brethren when the decision was made to have armed police on campus.

Juniata's relationship with a historic peace church was discussed as the college made its decision, Wall said. "It wasn't an easy decision," he said. The process included forums and meetings with faculty and students. "In all those meetings there were people who raised their hands for the longstanding peace tradition," Wall said. He stated that the college has not received much comment from constituent groups about its decision, but that at least one peace and conflict studies major has met with the dean of students about the issue.

However, a resolution concerning the issue was sent to the Juniata College Board of Trustees by the board of the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, according to Baker Institute director Andrew Murray. The resolution from the Baker Institute board urged the trustees to gather more information and make their own decision on the matter, rather than just accept the recommendation of the Review Group, Murray said. "We went on record as saying that the board really did not take the time to ask its own questions and do its own studies," Murray said.

On the Board of Trustees, with a make up of about one-fifth Church of the Brethren members, the vote for armed security personnel "was not unanimous, but there was a pretty overwhelming majority," Wall said.

Juniata's decision finally came down to a response to what is happening in the world, Wall said. He contended that "there's a consensus among colleges that you can't stand still and let this (shootings like Virginia Tech) happen to you. You have to make sure that your atmosphere is the safest available.... Arming the campus security force makes people feel more comfortable about a random incident. The person who might do these kinds of things might go somewhere else."

"I think it (the decision to arm security) is short sighted and based on extremely questionable logic," Murray said. "In short, we had two tragic shootings at universities that had armed security. To go from that to say we ought to arm our security seems like interesting logic. And I regret that a decision that ignores the heritage of the college was made so quickly."

"It's a hot topic and a tough discussion for colleges," said Lamont Rothrock, dean of students at McPherson College. "We're not in that kind of situation, being in a very safe community. Our police are within five minutes of being on campus." He emphasized that McPherson has a very small residential student body and that it has enacted a variety of other measures for security.

Jeri Kornegay, director of media and public relations at Manchester College, also cited a good relationship with community police. "We have a close relationship with the local police force," she said. The police department is only two miles from campus. Manchester also works hard to maintain close relationships within the campus community and with students, she said.

Elizabethtown College has a trained campus security force but has no intention to arm it, said Mary Dolheimer, director of marketing and media relations. "We are particularly sensitive to our heritage as a peace institution, and feel that arming security guards runs counter to that. We are not moving in that direction in any way, shape, or form."

Campus security is not armed at the University of La Verne, located in a metropolitan area west of Los Angeles. "We're not even thinking about that," said Charles Bentley, public relations director.

Juniata's decision to arm its campus security officers means each must now complete a state training program known as Lethal Weapons certification. Wall said it may take six months or more before weapons will be carried on campus by security.

Source: 5/07/2008 Newsline

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