Safety adds some firepower
Prompted by college shootings in Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, there has been much discussion over changes to Campus Safety responsibilities in the past few months. On Monday, April 7, a final proposal to implement a Use of Force policy was reviewed and approved by Faculty Senate. The Use of Force policy includes new regulations pertaining to the arming and training of Campus Safety supervisors.
William Corner, the director of Campus Safety, has been working to establish this policy. With recommendations from the college’s legal advisors and the Planning and Priorities Committee, the proposal for the new policy has been authorized, and changes are to be in place by the fall semester of 2008.
The Use of Force policy seeks to accomplish a greater level of safety on Calvin’s campus.
“First and foremost, we want to be able to have a response to an active threat to anyone on our campus,” said Corner. “We weren’t able to safely and effectively address a threat in the past. By having this Use of Force policy and the proper equipment, we are trying to correct the lack of training and equipment our supervisors previously did not receive.”
In an interview with the Chimes, President Gaylen Byker expressed support for the changes.
“It is important that we have the ability to respond to a threat or an incident that has loss of life or injury as a likely outcome,” said Byker. “We have had enough events locally and nationally to raise the danger sufficiently that we need to be prepared to respond. That has been the conclusion of the majority of the schools in the state of Michigan.”
According to the Campus Safety Manual of Procedures, the Use of Force policy outlines what is considered a necessary and reasonable amount of force to save lives, prevent injury, and overcome resistance in the lawful performance of their duties. It also considers when deadly force should be used in compliance with the policy.
“The Use of Force policy establishes specific guidelines for training and use of force,” said Corner, “It outlines what types of force can be used in relation to the type of aggressive or hostile act that is being committed or threatened to be committed against Campus Safety employees, students, faculty, staff, or even visitors to the college.”
The new policy calls for the implementation of firearms and the training of supervisors in defense tactics. Currently, Campus Safety supervisors carry only flashlights and radios. New regulations will equip supervisors with batons, pepper spray, handcuffs and firearms. Student employees of Campus Safety will not be authorized to carry any of this equipment. Supervisors will be trained in appropriate defensive tactics, which include verbal commands and empty hand techniques such as kicks, strikes and takedowns.
“Only Campus Safety supervisors who were certified police officers will be eligible to carry a firearm,” stated Corner. “The other supervisors will be able to carry the baton, the pepper spray, and the handcuffs. The use of force policy requires regular training. We would train yearly on the use of defensive tactics.”
In addition to regular training, supervisors who are authorized to carry a firearm will be required to qualify to carry the gun four times a year. The supervisors will need to prove their proficiency in the use of firearms through marksmanship and drills that test their ability to react in specific circumstances. State law requires that police semi-annually undergo proficiency and competency qualifications, so Calvin’s quarterly qualifications set a much higher standard.
The Use of Force policy has been authorized for a number of reasons. Concern regarding the ability of Campus Safety to adequately serve and protect Calvin College has been raised by parents, employees and students.
“We have received inquiries of concern from parents, employees of the college, and even some students asking how [Campus Safety] would protect them if someone came on campus with the intent of committing a violent act,” said Corner. Also, state and local government budget cutbacks have caused a decrease in the number of police officers employed by the Grand Rapids Police Department.
Corner supports this claim by providing statics regarding the cutbacks: “The Grand Rapids police have lost approximately 70 officer positions since 2001, so the response time is delayed.”
Also spurring these changes are previous incidents where officers have responded to potentially dangerous calls without adequate protection. Corner noted the incident ivolving a seminary student last summer.
“For me to respond to that request for help from the seminary is rather concerning, because I am going into the situation with nothing more than a radio. This person had a handgun and a lot of ammunition,” stated Corner.
Another incident occurred last fall when an unauthorized person was sighted in non-public locations in the Prince Conference Center and the FAC. The suspect was wanted in other states and had previous convictions for assault with dangerous weapons.
“These kinds of things happen a few times a year,” said Corner. “A lot of times, we haven’t even called the police yet when we make contact with someone, because we don’t know what we are dealing with until we arrive at the location where the person is.”
Corner stresses the point that these policies are not being implemented because of increasing dangers on campus.
“The campus itself is not any less safe,” assured Corner, “but we need to be able to respond to a threat in a safe and timely manner, and this gives us the ability to do so in a way that we did not have before.”
Discussing the impact of the new policy on the Calvin community, President Byker concluded that the change would be subtle, but beneficial.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of impact,” he said. “The awareness that the Campus Safety supervisors are armed will hopefully have some deterrent effect on someone who would otherwise not think that there was an adequate response. There is now an additional deterrent to violent behavior on campus. I don’t think it will change the behavior of the Campus Safety officers and I don’t think most people on a day to day basis will be aware that there has been a change.”