By Iván Flores
One of the biggest complaints from those opposed to incorporating armed officers into Washtenaw Community College’s Safety Department is a lack of transparency.
Trustee Dave DeVarti in particular has argued that not enough input from students and faculty has been sought after by the administration.
According to Brendan Prebo, associate vice president of marketing and communications, the administration sent surveys to all the faculty and staff as well as 1,500 students involved in clubs, during the fall of 2015. The survey concerned support for “a security force with a limited number of armed police officers.” At the time, the proposed plan involved hiring two Washtenaw County Sheriff deputies.
However, the response was limited. Out of 404 responses from faculty and staff, 58.7 percent were in support, and 21.5 percent were opposed. Only 124 students responded to the survey. 54 percent were in favor, and 21 percent were against. The rest of the responses for both
students and faculty/staff were neutral; they neither supported nor opposed the presence of armed police officers.
Joe Chapman, president of WCC’s Political Science Club, mentioned they will schedule a forum to raise awareness about the latest proposal to bring police officers on campus. The date has yet to be announced, and the panel finalized. Chapman said he didn’t think enough has been done by the school to educate the student population.
“We want publicity,” Chapman said. “Things have kind of gone under the radar and people are not as informed as they could be. We want flyers, pamphlets, a table at the student center and a big, ol’ banner.”
According to Prebo, Scott Hilden, chief of public safety, has talked to between 350-400
people. MLive and the Washtenaw Voice were invited to the meeting where the Board of Trustees first voted to
begin public hearings for a new security department. MLive did not attend. Prebo mentioned a memo was sent to the staff and faculty explaining the board’s decision. He said the memo was not sent to students because the meeting had been covered extensively by The Washtenaw Voice.
“Now that public hearing have been scheduled,” Prebo said, “we are looking at ways to get the information out to students, staff and faculty, and we hope to begin that outreach soon.”
Omar Davidson, a 23 year old student from Belleville, said he is opposed to the proposed police department.
“What’s wrong with the current (security) structure?” Davidson asked. “I think (Rose Bellanca) just wants to cover a liability in the future. I think having police officers will exacerbate whatever issues already exist on campus.”
Davidson’s concerned included ignorance of the number of officers, the budget for the police officers, and whether or not the resources could be better spent elsewhere.
One of the most frequently cited alternatives to investment in security is investment in counseling services. However, the counseling department signed a letter to the board of trustees in support of a police presence on campus in April of 2016.
The letter said, “While there is no absolute safeguard against violence happening, we do know that a combination of mental health services and physical security/safety services are needed…We see CROs as another resource and tool in our community effort to ensure a safe learning and working environment.”
Elizabeth Orbits, Dean of Student Support Services, was a signatory. She said she had attended one of Hilden’s presentations and had personally supported the plan. However, she added that she could not speak for the rest of her staff.