Campus Safety Forum Debates Whether Public Safety Should Be Armed

This past Wednesday, March 16, A.S.U.R invited the Department of Public Safety to a campus-wide forum on campus safety. University of Redlands General Counsel, Brent Geraty, Sociology and Anthropology professor Bill Rocque, Chaplain and Professor John Walsh, and Director of Public Safety Jeff Talbott were asked to sit on the panel. Additionally, two A.S.U.R Cabinet members, Franklin Garrison, Director of Communications, and Kara Blaiser, Senate Chair, sat on the panel as well. As students began to take their seats, they were instructed to text in their questions to a particular number with a 140 character limit. Though all students were allowed to ask questions, the questions were then taken up to the moderator, Professor Bill Southworth, who would choose which to read out to the panel.

The initial objective of this panel was to discuss campus policies, share ideas on campus safety, and learn how to cultivate a safe environment on campus. In the aftermath of the December 2, 2015, San Bernardino shooting, attention has been focused on the safety of the University of Redlands campus. However, conversations surrounding arming Public Safety officers became the primary discussion of the evening.

According to a 2011-2012 survey conducted by the U.S  Department’s Bureau of Justice on Campus Law Enforcement Agencies, 92 percent of public institutions employed sworn officers, more than twice that of private institutions, which fell at about 38 percent. Similarly, 91 percent of these public universities used armed officers, more than double the numbers of private universities, which employed approximately 36 percent.

Additionally, the survey found the number of institutions using sworn officers increased from 75 percent to 77 percent since the 2004-05 school year, and the number of armed officers increased from 68 percent to 75 percent during the same period.

At 7:05 PM, Southworth began the forum by first asking panel members how safe they felt on campus on a day to day basis.

Garrison explained that though he felt relatively safe on campus, his experiences on campus did not inclusively reflect the University as whole. Garrison further stated that broad conversations regarding safety barely scratched the surface and he advocated for building communities on campus that ensured safety. He also advocated for initiating more conversations surrounding sexual assault.

With the exception of Talbott, the rest of the panel agreed that they felt reasonably safe on campus.

“How we feel about safety depends on the experiences that we have had,” Geraty said. “I observe that this is a mono color panel, and somebody else who has had different experiences with law enforcement might not feel as safe, we acknowledge that.”

Following this remark, Southworth continued by asking if Public Safety officers had ever been put in a situation where they felt the need to be armed.

“They have,” Talbott said. “There is a difference between the environments of daytime campus which focuses on academia and business and nighttime campus. Officers deal with individuals with knives and guns who do not belong on campus. Due to our officers not wanting to confront an armed person while they themselves are unarmed, many officers are not comfortable knowing they are unarmed and the individual(s) are not.”

Blaiser added that, she was in support of campus safety being armed when dealing with individuals coming in from off campus.

“Issue arises when our Public Safety officers arrive on a scene and they are not adequately prepared to respond to these threats,” Blaiser said.

Conversations arose regarding whether or not individuals on campus would feel more comfortable or less comfortable knowing that Public Safety officers were armed.

“As a female, walking by myself can be nerve wracking at night,” Blaiser said. “I could see guns being useful. I would rather have Public Safety there to protect students than the Redlands Police Department because Public Safety spends more time with students.”

Walsh stated that he would not feel comfortable having Public Safety officers being armed. Walsh also introduced the idea of Public Safety officers having access to weapons but not necessarily carrying them on their holsters. He suggested the idea of Public Safety officers having guns accessible in their vehicles, but not on their bodies.

“There is a level trust between students, faculty, and Public Safety officers on campus which in turn creates a feeling that the University is being protected,” Walsh said. “In this regard, I do not think weapons are required. I believe December 2 was a very unusual yet profound situation.”

Geraty built off of Walsh’s statement by alluding to the ramifications of arming Public Safety officers on campus as well.

“If we knew exactly what we were going to face, we would address that. However, we do not know what we are going to face,” Geraty argued. “At night, what if we used arms on someone who we thought was a threat but was not, does that make the campus more safe or less safe? We want people to respond as quickly as possible yet a majority of college campus shootings took place on campuses with armed officers.”

Rocque responded by questioning why we feel safe bringing armed police officers on to our campus during emergencies rather than having our forces already armed.

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Talbott additionally stated that the Chief from the Redlands Police Department had recommended that Public Safety Officers be armed on campus.

The next questions brought up to the panel were in regards to the events that took place on December 2, 2015. Many students reported feeling unsafe or uncomfortable with the decision to continue with classes throughout the day. Due to the overwhelming number of newscasters and police officers surrounding Redlands, students explained that they did not feel safe going to class or walking around the University. Many of the questions concerning this event inquired into why lockdown procedure was not enacted when the event began.

“As soon as the event occurred, senior leadership began discussing how the campus should respond,” Talbott said. “We were getting our information from the Redlands Police Department directly, the media does not always give out accurate information. The rumors that we were hearing from the media throughout the day were based on fear rather than information coming from the RPD. We were on this from the very beginning.”

Questions regarding the policies of other schools within the Redlands conference as well as what training would look like if  Public Safety officers were armed arose as a result of this conversation.

Geraty explained that all of the University of Redlands’ ‘brother’ schools, the eight members of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), currently hold the same policies as Redlands regarding armed Public Safety officers.

“All members of the SCIAC conference are unarmed,” Geraty said.

He also added that in a survey sent out to students, 77% of students either strongly disagreed or disagreed with Public Safety Officers being armed on campus.

Due to Talbotts’ support of Public Safety officers being armed on campus, he came prepared to share with the forum what this process would entail both legally and financially.

“In the state of California, training requires that armed officers must be licensed,” Talbott said. “If our department was to be armed, we would not only increase the training requirements but, extend training by two to three months. Furthermore, armed security guards are only allowed to use their guns in a defensive position. Police Officers on the other hand, are able to operate both offensively and defensively. We would not be operating offensively.”

When asked how much training and arming Public Safety Officers would cost, Talbott reported that it would cost approximately $30,000.

Both the events of Baltimore and Ferguson were brought up when discussing the training of Public Safety officers. Geraty reasoned that police officers in both places were trained yet these tragedies still occurred.

Additionally, a survey sponsored by Harvard School of Public Health and conducted within the Journal of American Health revealed more startics regarding guns on college campuses. Over 10,000 undergraduates in 2001 were surveyed throughout the country.  The 2001 survey confirmed the findings of the 1997 surveys, and also showed that guns on college campuses were more common in regions with higher levels of gun prevalence, and that gun threats to college students were also more common in these regions.

The topic of arming our Public Safety officers with tasers was also brought up.

“You can not use a taser in a deadly force situation,” Talbott said. “Tasers can not combat active shooters. Our concerns are the people who do not belong here, non-students. We would not use firearms on students.”

Garrison remarked that fellow students had voiced concerns to him around Public Safety officers misidentifying students versus non-students here at the University.

“Many students have reportedly been identified as non-students and this is where concerns come from,” Garrison said. “If there is a situation where Public Safety is armed and students are identified as non-students, fear can be amplified. Ultimately, the gun conversation is a very small piece of this conversation. How do we work as a community to overcome problems with campus safety as a whole?”

Rocque added that, “though guns do not cause violence, they do intensify violence.”

At this point in this conversation, freshman Sean Dunnington stood up to interrupt the panel by stating that many students felt as if their questions and concerns were not being adequately addressed, given the 140 question character limit as well and the screening process each question was going through.  Dunnington followed this by asking questions regarding the lack of female officers within the Public Safety Department.

“I would love to hire female officers,” Talbott said. “I have worked for five years to recruit female officers. However, if the people aren’t applying I can’t hire them”

Following this trend, students voiced concerns regarding the lack of racial diversity on the panel. According to a comprehensive data network reporting the number of people killed by U.S law enforcement, black males between the ages of 15 and 34 were 15 percent of those killed by police in 2015, despite making up just 2 percent of the US population. This static alone produced questions about whether arming Public Safety officers would heighten racial tension or create an unsafe environment for some students on campus.

Students expressed concern on the University of Redlands being an open campus where anyone can walk in.

Sophomore Courtney Collins approached the mic to emphasize her concerns with arming Public Safety officers.

“As a black woman I am not being represented here. Will arming Public Safety officers lead to more arms on campus, why aren’t we a closed campus?”

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Sophomore Kameron Preston specifically asked how Public Safety would keep people who do not belong on this campus, off campus.

“We have an ‘opening learning environment’ here on campus,” Talbott said. “Institutionalized structures would be counterproductive. Our officers have to be vigilant, and our community has to report suspicious incidents to ensure the safety of our students here on campus.”

Talbott reported that on average, Public Safety officers respond to all calls within approximately a 90 second time range. However, students voiced concerns regarding the lag in response time. Junior Emma Wade reported that often she found herself waiting 15 minutes or more for an officer to arrive.

Students continued with questions regarding the current communication tactics of Public Safety. Some students brought in personal anecdotes of other universities consistently using texts and emails to keep students informed of what was going on around them. Talbott responded by pointing out that over-communication risks alerts not being taken seriously. He reasoned that when students consistently receive emails or texts regarding the environment around them, they are arguably more likely to disregard the notifications. Talbott explained that Public Safety factors in urgency and proximity when deciding which notifications should be sent out.

Subsequently, Wade later spoke more on the lack of diversity by bringing attention to a Public Safety forum that took place two years ago regarding the mistreatment of students of color on campus. Wade questioned whether arming Public Safety officers would exacerbate some of the pre-existing fears expressed by students.

“What is Public Safety doing for the overall safety of this campus?” Wade asked. “Where did the conversation about Public Safety having guns come from? What is the goal here?”

Talbott reported that he did not plan the agenda for the forum. His department had been invited to speak on behalf of the Department of Public Safety.

“I did not plan this, I’m here because I was invited,” Talbott said. “I want to get out of this forum as much as you are willing to give. I’m an employee here, I’m a soldier. Our officers spend every hour of every day talking about safety. We communicate with each other and always report the events of the day to the next officer on shift.”

Gearty elaborated on Talbotts’ answer by stating that campus safety can not be pinned on one particular group of peoples within the University environment.  

“Safety is not only the responsibility of Public Safety but our responsibility as a University,” Gearty said.

Though many more students reported having questions for the panel, moderator Southworth informed the forum that time was coming to a close. Southworth ended the forum at approximately 9 P.M.

[Images courtesy of Sky Ung, Redlands Bulldog photographer]




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