University considers arming its officers

April 02, 1998|By DON AINES

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Campus police at Shippensburg University are equipped with mace and handcuffs, but not nightsticks and handguns. That could change under a proposal to arm officers that was the subject of an open campus meeting Thursday.

University President Anthony Ceddia appointed a committee late last year to study the possibility of arming the 14 campus police officers. A report is being prepared, but no decision will be made before Ceddia returns from a sabbatical in May, according to Committee Chairman Joel Zullinger.

Many of the approximately 30 people at the meeting were members of the committee. Herb Bowers, the university's director of public safety, said he was disappointed by the turnout.

"We've never had a problem with students with guns on campus. ... I've always felt very safe," said one student who left shortly after making her comments.


"A lot of the problems I'm aware of are transients on campus," not students, said Mark Shubert, a university employee. "I don't think we should wait until we have a problem. The police need a way to protect themselves."

Diane Clark, a member of the psychology department, said she favors giving officers bulletproof vests, but not handguns. "I think a gun sometimes ... jumps the ante a little too quickly," she said.

Darnell Montgomery, president of the university's African-American Student Organization, said he was trying to remain neutral in the debate, but recalled an incident last fall in which a man who was not a student got into a fight on campus.

Montgomery said the man had a gun and the police who responded to the fight "and everyone else was in a precarious situation."

"I may have missed something, but I don't recall any campus police officers being shot recently ... I don't ever recall a student being shot," said Paul Adams of the history department. "I'm unalterably opposed to having guns on campus."

Bowers, who has been with the university 28 years, recalled having a sawed-off shotgun pointed at him early in his career. He said many students are unaware campus police have been involved in six incidents involving various weapons since September.

Under his proposal, Bowers said officers could use firearms only in cases where their lives or the lives of others were in immediate danger.

Drinking, disorderly conduct, theft and vandalism were the most common on-campus crimes over the previous three years, according to university statistics. The numbers showed the last weapons violation occurred in 1994-95, but Bowers said there were incidents involving weapons that fell into other categories.

Still, the statistics showed few assaults, rapes and other violent crimes during that period.

Of the 14 universities in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education, nine allow officers to carry guns, according to Bowers.

Bowers said two campus police officers, one in Nevada and another in Texas, were killed this year.

"It's a violent society or we wouldn't need any police officers carrying firearms," he said.

Assistant Dean of Students Marvin Worthy said he was concerned about police being trained to handle the university's diverse population.

Zullinger said the officers have to meet the same standards as municipal police in the state.

"We need to look at the whole person when you're going to put that kind of responsibility on their hip," Worthy said.

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