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Shippensburg campus police to carry weapons

August 27, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Campus police will begin carrying firearms next year following a decision by Shippensburg University President Anthony F. Ceddia.

"I've turned around 180 degrees on this matter. I always believed the campus is a sanctuary where people should feel safe and protected," Ceddia said Thursday of his decision, which was announced last week.

Ceddia said he made the decision earlier this summer after reviewing a report by a committee he appointed last year to study the issue. That committee met with focus groups and held open meetings last spring.

While the opinion was not unanimous from faculty and students, Ceddia said the committee "got a lot of positive feedback ... and suggestions on how to further improve the police force beyond the question of just arming them. I've never been in favor of campus police carrying firearms," said Ceddia, who cited the U.S. Capitol shootings and killings at public schools last year as factors that influenced his thinking.

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"We need to provide a higher level of security as a deterrent," he said.

"We've held off on this for a number of years," Ceddia said, noting the university will be the 10th among 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education to arm its police.

Millersville, West Chester and East Stroudsburg are among the other universities with armed campus police, according to Herbert F. Bowers, director of public safety for the past 15 years. He heads the campus police force.

With a federal grant to hire three more officers, Bowers said the campus police will soon have 17 commissioned officers. He said those officers "are the same as any police officers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They have the same authority and powers of arrest."

He said the officers will get extensive firearms training, but no decision has been made about the type of firearms they will carry. Bowers said training will be done by a certified range instructor, probably from another police department, until the force has its own certified instructor.

Firearms won't be issued to officers until early 1999, Bowers said.

Bowers said a consultant from Penn State University has been hired to conduct mandatory multicultural and sensitivity training, a concern raised at one open meeting in April. Two sessions will be held on Sept. 22 and members of the Cumberland Valley Regional Police Department have been invited to attend.

Bowers said last spring that the university's policy would be that officers could use firearms only when the life of a civilian or officer was at stake.

"It's absolutely the last resort," he said.

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