Forum addresses armed presence on campus

A public forum hosted by SGA and led by Dean Evelyn Campbell, Chief of Public Safety Tom Phillis, and Assistant Chief of Security Mark Beckwith was held Tuesday to discuss an armed presence on campus.
Students raised questions and concerns regarding gun safety, the surrounding dynamics of Rock Island and logistics of armed security officers.
A concern during the forum was student safety, especially with the national increase in police gun violence and brutality.
Campbell emphasized that the officers who would be armed have extensive professional experience.
“They are very serious; they’ve trained a long time,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t realize how professional they have to be because if they pull the gun at the wrong time, they’re liable.”
No decision has been made as to whether Public Safety officers will be armed. If the decision were made to have an armed presence on campus, a police department would be formed with three Public Safety officers.
These officers would have to be graduates from the Police Academy, received gun training, have law enforcement experience and have carried a gun. Armed officers would also go through additional gun training before carrying guns on campus and would continue with yearly gun training.
These officers would include Phillis, Beckwith and another Police Academy graduate officer.
Officers would be armed weekdays during class times and events, from 7 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m, when shootings are most likely to happen.
Campbell said the college currently uses an all-hazards approach.
“Seconds count, and we know that,” said Campbell. “In most cases, shooters don’t stop until they see law enforcement.”
Another concern was how often armed officers would use guns and in which situations.
Beckwith said the situation is hard to define, but could include domestic violence or a “threat of life of any community member” on campus.
Phillis added, “the only time you draw weapons is imminent threat of death or violence.”
Phillis also said rules for Public Safety response to housing and ticketing would not change.
“We are still going to deal with students as students,” he said. “We will still use RIPD for help and the use of force will not change.”
The Rock Island Police Department, who works collaboratively with Public Safety, would continue to have armed officers around campus from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at large events such as football games.
Having a small police department on campus would be more cost efficient than hiring more RIPD officers. The cost of additional training for the three qualified Public Safety officers, however, would cost around $30,000 per year.
Campbell said the reason Public Safety and administration is discussing an armed presence is “our environment has shown us places are vulnerable.”
“20 to 30 percent of liberal arts colleges across the country are armed,” she said. “Slowly but surely colleges are placing officers on campus that are armed. We are not alone in this effort.”
If the decision is made to arm three Public Safety officers, which would need to be passed through the Board of Trustees, an outline with RIPD will be made.
“We are responsible for these 116 acres and the lives that live here,” said Campbell.
Beckwith said his commitment is towards the students of the college.
“I’m passionate about the safety of people,” said Beckwith. “I’m serving the Augustana community and that’s what I like.”