BY TAYLOR ROBINSON
At their most recent meeting, the Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees took action on a recommendation to negotiate a contract with the county sheriff’s office to have armed school resource officers on campus.
The board discussed the drafted guidelines summary provided by the sheriff’s office and Chair Richard Landau entertained broad discussion. Trustees continue to address concerns including the effect of introducing armed officers into a campus culture and how much influence they will have.
“I continue to be concerned about the speed we’re moving ahead with this,” said Trustee Dave DeVarti. “I’m still grappling with bringing that police presence on campus where I think it would have negative implications for students here that could damage their process toward achieving a completion of higher education. I’m just wondering why we’re moving so quickly.”
Landau commented that although he understands the concerns about instating police officers on campus, University of Michigan has their own actual police force and he doesn’t recall it having an effect on student’s success.
“I understand deliberation and I respect deliberation, but we cannot be unmindful of current events and the unfortunate frequency with which incidents of active shooters and other incidents of mass violence on college campuses is occurring in this country,” Landau said. “I loathe to delay this type of decision very much longer since we do have an obligation to ensure the safety of the faculty, staff and students on this campus.”
Dilip Das, a trustee and an employee of U-M, provided feedback concerning Landau’s comment. While U-M does have their own police force, Das said they also have an oversight committee consisting of students, faculty and staff which examines the actions of the officers.
“I would hope that we also compose a body that regularly examine the activity of the SROs, including any estimated uptick in arrests that they’ve already assured us will likely happen, just because of a presence of police officers on this campus,” Das said. He adds that the job of a police force is to “fulfill their function and to arrest and detain.”
The board agreed that incorporating an oversight committee is something they need to seriously look at and add to the drafted contract. Treasurer Stephen Gill reminded the board and attendees that the draft is not final and they still have an opportunity to reject, and or adjust, the guidelines and expectations.
Trustee Ruth Hatcher’s response was that the more they look at the guidelines, the harder it is to say no. She also supports the idea of incorporating an oversight committee or task force to make sure the SROs are acting accordingly.
Although the administration is recommending four SROs at an annual cost of $626,908, Hatcher commented that she could support one, because that would already be a huge increase in security compared to the previous contract which expired at the end of 2015.
“Before we hurry into something that is spending $600,000, frankly, I’d rather take that $600,000 and put it toward an increased counseling presence so we’d have more counselors to assist,” DeVarti said in his remarks. “I think that would be a greater enhancement to the safety and security of the campus, to have more counselors available to meet the needs of our students. I want to evaluate what’s the appropriate way to spend this money… I think we’re rushing into an ongoing expenditure and could have effects on some of the lives of the students here.”
Ultimately, the board voted in favor of the negotiation, 6-1, with DeVarti voting “No.” Questions and concerns will be taken back to the sheriff’s office and the board will vote on approval of the contract at a future meeting.