By Ivan Flores
Last year, the Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees considered bolstering security by contracting with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department for school resource officers, or SROs. The discussion came against a backdrop of high-profile attacks on college campuses, including a mass-shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. The $250,000-a-year plan ultimately faded from discourse at the college, but it has not disappeared.
However, the contract is just one of several options which could change the school’s safety department. The Board of Trustees is waiting for a recommendation from Scott Hilden, the new chief of campus safety.
Hilden was hired in late November of 2016, replacing Jacques Desrosiers, who left the post earlier that year.
Hilden worked for the Canton Police Department for 25 years, where he earned the rank of deputy chief. He was a school resource officer for a year and a half, and spent 15 years supervising Canton’s SRO unit.
“I’m in the process of assessing the security department,” Hilden said. “(WCC) has 12,000 students. It’s larger than some cities, and it makes sense to allocate the appropriate resources.”
Hilden mentioned some of the options he will consider include:
- partnering with a police force
- creating a WCC police force, like those at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan
- a contract with the sheriff’s office
- and maintaining the status quo
Hilden said he was worried that the school did not have the resources to respond quickly to an emergency. He said that incidents like the one in Oregon, or the 2016 car-ramming attack at Ohio State University, are rare.
However, he also pointed out that these attacks happen in generally safe environments. Hilden credited OSU’s police force with stopping that attack in under two minutes.
Dave DeVarti, a member of the board of trustees, has been a critic of contracting for Student Resource Officers, and of having armed police officers on campus.
“I think we have a safe campus,” DeVarti said. “We spend $1.5 million on campus security, and (the board) just voted on another commitment to contract for a remote lockdown system for staff and faculty areas.”
DeVarti said he would rather build relationships with emergency response services to facilitate any intervention at WCC.
DeVarti also noted that campus security has other useful functions besides just providing security, including opening locked rooms and helping people find lost items.
“I think we should keep doing what we’re doing,” DeVarti said.
One of the concerns was that there would be tensions between the student population and police officers and arrests for minor infractions. Hilden insisted this need not be the case. Should there be police officers on campus, Hilden said he would draw on his experience running Canton’s SRO unit to properly vet, train, and integrate the officers with the community.
The debate about having police officers on campus is not new. In 1998, the Voice reported on a proposal to deputize some members of campus safety. The concern at the time involved being able to recover stolen property. Because campus safety personnel had, and still have, no authority to enforce laws, investigations had to be turned over to law enforcement and got delayed in the bureaucracy. However, the 1998 article also mentioned personal protection orders, five of which involved the risk of the abuser going to campus with a firearm.
Michigan law prohibits guns in school buildings, and WCC policy bans them anywhere on campus. The college is relatively safe, as reflected in the annual safety reports published on WCC’s website. But firearms do make it to campus. Earlier this month, there was an incident where a student had a gun brandished at him in a parking lot.
The Washtenaw Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment. In an earlier article about the subject, spokesman Derrick Jackson noted that WCC and the Sheriff’s Department have conducted active-shooter training for staff, faculty and interested students. He also said that while the presence of police officers on campus would not deter someone bent on causing destruction, it would be a deterrent for others.