Contributor Colin MacDougall offers another viewpoint in his article. See “SROs on campus”
BY IVAN FLORES
If a gunman were to attack Washtenaw Community College tomorrow, the question would certainly arise, could we have done anything to prevent the rampage? Well, maybe. Maybe not. There is no way to safeguard against such a tragedy. We can do our best to prepare, and we must be willing to accept that our best may not be enough. Being prepared means investing in counseling for students and staff, establishing well-rehearsed procedures for active-shooter situations, and having police officers on campus. Together, those three things are our best insurance against a tragedy.
The Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees is currently negotiating a $600,000 contract to hire deputies, also known as School Resource Officers, from the Washtenaw County Sheriff. This has raised concerns over a number of things. How would having armed officers affect the campus atmosphere? Could the money be better spent on something else, like counseling? In a worst case scenario, would a deputy armed with a handgun be able to do much during a shooting?
WCC does offer personal counseling to students, and it needs to invest money into this program to insure that the counseling services are adequate for the student population. However, counseling requires willingness from a patient to initiate treatment. Campus Security is simply not equipped to deal with someone who has fallen through the cracks and shown up to school with a gun. Police are trained to deal with those situations. Both Eastern Michigan and the University of Michigan have police officers on campuses. Their presence does not necessarily hinder day-to-day life in those institutions.
SROs fall under Derrick Jackson’s office. He is the head of the Sheriff’s Community Outreach department.
“I think if someone wants to do destruction,” Jackson said, “they’re going to find a way to do destruction. However, it’s like your house; if your house is more secure than mine, then mine is probably more likely to get broken into. It doesn’t mean that if you do have a dog, and you do have an alarm, you’ll never get broken into. Officer presence is a deterrent for folks. It doesn’t stop everybody, but it is a deterrent for many people.”
If the contract is approved, the Sheriff’s office and WCC would write a Memorandum of Understanding to sort out the priorities for the school. The MOU is designed to keep SRO presence from making the school feel like a jail, Jackson said. For example, past MOUs with other schools have required that SROs dress down from their usual tactical uniforms. Although the SROs are required to enforce laws, busting kids with pot or catching smokers on campus would not necessarily be on their priority list.
The chances of a school shooting happening at WCC are very slim. It probably won’t ever happen, but it is not wise to think, as Frank Zappa put it, “it can’t, it won’t happen here.” Already, the school is investing in counseling. The Sheriff has provided active shooter training to staff, but that needs to extend to students as well. The SROs would be another crucial part of the puzzle. Unless the police behave unprofessionally, having them on campus can’t hurt. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, lest we be haunted by what could have, would have, and should have been done to prevent a tragedy.