Packing Heat

Shooting of a student by a campus officer renews debate about arming of college cops.    
February 14, 2006

Most dorm insurrections get a mere roll of the eyes from a resident adviser. But Zachary Carroll, a 21-year-old student at Florida Atlantic University, was shot by a campus police officer last week.

According to police officers and reports of witness accounts, Carroll -- who is 6 feet tall and weighs 300 lbs.  -- was raging out of control after getting into a fight in his dorm. He left the dorm and smashed a car window, and one witness account had him spitting on an officer who came to the scene.

According to campus police, Carroll rushed at an officer, Mary Douglas, who shot him once in the shoulder. “All the accounts [from other officers and student witnesses] indicate that she feared for her life,” said Bill Ferrell, Florida Atlantic’s police chief. Carroll was listed in fair condition late last week.

Douglas has been a officer at the university for less than a year – having come from another agency – but, like all Florida Atlantic campus cops, she is a certified state police officer. The shooting was the first by campus officers in the 40-year history of the institution. When Florida Atlantic first opened, it employed security guards who could not carry guns.

Ferrell said he would look into getting non-lethal tasers, which are “an excellent tool, but there’s no indication it would have worked” in bringing Carroll under control.

The question of whether to arm campus police has provoked a wide range of reactions on campuses in recent years.

Robert Norcross, director of campus police at MiraCosta College, a two-year institution in California that is considering arming officers, said that tasers aren’t much good if the offender has a gun.

Norcross said that the duties of campus officers have expanded in recent years, and that campus police now regularly come into contact with non-students and local criminals. In just the last two years, according to a position paper Norcross co-wrote that recommends arming campus cops, MiraCosta police have been asked to help enforce more than a dozen restraining orders by students and college employees against people not affiliated with the college.

In 2000, MiraCosta’s trustees voted four to two, with one abstention, against arming officers. But, notes the paper, “school shootings and post 9/11 events have changed the way law enforcement works.” Norcross said opinion surveys are currently being conducted to get the opinions of students and faculty members about arming campus police.

The most recent statistics regarding the number of campus police departments that use firearms are from a 1995 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of 680 four-year institutions. Sixty-four percent of the campuses surveyed employed armed officers. Over 90 percent of the campuses with at least 20,000 students used armed officers, with that number falling to 42 percent at campuses of less than 5,000.

Public institutions in the Justice Department survey were far more likely to use armed officers, with public institutions with 5,000-10,000 students twice as likely to use armed officers as private colleges of the same size, 92 percent versus 45 percent. Of the campuses that used armed officers, about three-quarters authorized the use of at least some type of semi-automatic weapon – a 9mm is the campus weapon of choice – compared to 95 percent of local police departments near the surveyed campuses.

Christopher G. Blake, associate director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said that he wasn’t aware of any evidence of trends in arming officers since the report, but said that, while some campuses are considering arming officers, it’s probably very rare for campus departments to disarm. Blake agreed with Norcross that the responsibilities of campus police have changed. IACLEA now gives workshops in disaster response, and has trained about 4,000 people on campuses in weapon-of-mass-destruction awareness.

But some people in the campus community think that the ramping up of campus defense just promotes a culture of fear. Vanessa Huang, a senior at Brown University, was disappointed when, over winter break, she got an e-mail from the administration telling students that campus police would be carrying guns when classes resumed. Brown became the fourth Ivy League institution, after Harvard and Yale Universities and the University of Pennsylvania, to arm its officers.

“It terrifies me,” said Huang, who wrote an opinion article in the Brown Daily Herald criticizing the push to arm campus officers. Huang correctly noted that violent crime is down in many major cities across the country, and said she would like to have seen more discussion about the deeper issues of promoting a safe relationship with local communities around campus.

The decision at Brown culminated more than three years of analysis and preparation. In 2002 the university commissioned a consulting firm led by William J. Bratton, a former New York City police commissioner, to make a report of safety recommendations. One of the suggestions of the report was to arm campus cops so that they could take on additional community policing responsibilities.

A 2003 letter from Brown President Ruth Simmons to students and staff members at Brown said that the decision on whether to arm campus officers would be based on the recommendations of the report and a “real and perceived increases in crime on and around the campus.”

In April 2003, the Brown Daily Herald conducted a student opinion poll on arming campus police. Fifty-six percent of the students polled plus or minus 7 percent opposed arming campus police. When the Herald conducted another poll last month, only 30.7 percent, plus or minus 4.6 percent, disapproved of giving campus police guns.

Mark Porter, Brown’s chief of police, who previously presided over the arming of campus officers at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, said he thought that the long, thorough process Brown went through -- which included more than 160 hours of training for officers -- helped to assure people at Brown that the decision to arm was not made lightly. Porter added that it’s important for armed campus officers to have extra training in conflict resolution and diversity awareness. “Campus isn’t a typical place,” he said. “Most of the people being served are between the ages of 18 and 22, and it’s more diverse than just about anywhere else.”

In some cases, students simply demand better security, whether it means arming campus officers or not. On April 29, 2004, Johnathan Glenn, a freshman at Edward Waters College in Florida, turned in a paper about what he called ineffective safety procedures on campus. The next day, Glenn was robbed and shot dead outside his dorm. In the wake of that incident, students submitted a petition to the college president insisting on better campus security, and Glenn’s family sued the college, alleging inadequate security. That case is still ongoing.  

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