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Augustana discusses armed presence on campus

The Administration is discussing the possibility of having three Public Safety officers armed on weekdays and is ahead of the game in comparison to other private colleges.

While 76 percent of public four-year colleges in the U.S. have armed officers on campus, only 32 percent of private four-year colleges have an armed presence, according to a survey done by the National Campus Safety and Security Project.

The President’s cabinet and Public Safety have also been looking at other regional schools and have found that 20-30 percent of colleges in Augustana’s demographic already have an armed presence.

Tom Phillis, Chief of Public Safety, said that while only about one-third of private colleges in the U.S. have an armed presence on campus, many private institutions are discussing the idea.

“It is certainly information we’re looking at because, you know, you don’t want to be on the forefront of change, but at the same time, you don’t want to be on the back end of change either,” said Phillis. “What the information tells us is that it’s definitely a trend that needs to be considered.”

If the president’s cabinet decides to have an armed presence on campus, which is passed by the Board of Trustees, a small police department consisting of three officers would be armed on weekdays during class times and events on campus.

These officers, including Phillis and Mark Beckwith, assistant chief of security, would have to be Police Academy graduates with law enforcement experience and who have received gun training. They would be armed from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. at the latest Monday through Friday and would receive yearly gun training at the cost of $30,000 per year.

The purpose of having an armed presence on campus would be to respond to a mass shooting or life threatening situation.

The discussion of armed security officers at Augustana was first brought up last May when a mass shooting drill was held on campus. There has been a change in national police tactics in response to mass shootings, which also brought up the discussion.

Phillis said in most mass shootings, the officer closest enters the scene, rather than waiting for a SWAT team.

“The sooner you can get an armed law enforcement response to an incident of a mass shooting, it seems like the quicker that it comes to a resolution,” he said.

A shooting last week at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., proved that shooters often stop at the sight of law enforcement. Karl Pierson, 18, shot and critically injured 17-year-old Claire Esther Davis before killing himself at the sound of the advancement of a deputy sheriff, security officer and two administrators.

The shooter may have injured more people if the deputy sheriff had not been present and responded quickly, according to Arapahoe Country Sheriff Grayson Robinson.

Evelyn Campbell, dean and vice president of student life, said after comparing Augustana to other regional institutions and changing national police tactics, it is time for the discussion of armed officers on campus.

“This decision is for Augustana College,” said Campbell. “We can’t copy anybody else. We have got to look at all the unique things here, and we just felt that now was the time for discussion.”

There was a faculty forum on Dec. 6 and a student forum on Dec. 12. During the student forum, led by Phillis, Campbell and Assistant Chief of Security Mark Beckwith, questions and concerns on gun safety and the dynamics of the college were discussed.

Campbell said some of the biggest concerns from faculty and staff addressed during the forums are the surrounding community’s response and uneasiness with a gun presence.

“I thought one of the topics that took up more of the time was the concern about what message it would send the neighborhood,” said Campbell. “I think the other was probably just an uncomfortable-ness with part of the students to have someone with a gun respond to issues that come up that now someone responds without a gun.”

While students, faculty and administration have been discussing the idea of an armed presence since May, there has not been a move forward to make a decision.

“In order for us to become a police department, we actually have to have a solution passed by the Board of Trustees,” said Phillis. “So right now the president and his staff are in the information phase to decide if they want to make that recommendation to the board of trustees or not. The decision has definitely not been made.”

The next Board of Trustees meetings will be held in January and May, when the topic of armed security officers at Augustana may be brought up.

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