By Jenelle Franklin
Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees is holding a public hearing at the beginning of their next board meeting on May 23. The meeting will start at 5 p.m. to allow time for public comments on the matter of Campus Resource Officers, a private armed security force proposed on campus.
The April board meeting began at 5 p.m., leaving an hour for public discussion. Speakers were asked to keep their comments inside a three-minute limit. All comments were completed by 6:35 p.m. The board then moved onto the rest of the agenda. The overall consensus of the public speakers was mixed.
First to speak was Ann Garcia, WCC behavioral sciences faculty.
“Two years ago you asked us to do the exact same thing, and here we are again,” Garcia said. “I am not sure what has happened in the past two years, I would like to know what kind of research has been done. I have not heard any facts, and by facts I mean research.”
Garcia asked to look beyond incidental moments, instead to gather information from thousands of incidents nationwide to see if CRO make a difference. Garcia explained research on the “weapons effect,” a study by Leonard Burkowitz discussing the rate of increased violent thoughts upon seeing a weapon.
“I myself have not seen any problems on this campus that I believe warrant bringing guns on campus and I believe for every time there might be a benefit of having someone with a gun on campus and it saving us from something horrible, there could be 10 events where people are more frightened and more afraid,” Garcia said.
Joyce Nelson, director of public service training at WCC, approached the board as a parent and former police officer, not a WCC employee.
“Today I would like to address you as a mom of two boys starting here in the fall, and as a 19-year law enforcement officer,” Nelson said.
“I was shocked to find out that we (the campus) are not armed here,” Nelson said. “Schoolcraft, armed; Mott, armed; Oakland, armed. As a mom of two boys who are going to come here I think about ‘What if.’”
“What if something happens and we do not have the ability to respond quickly or efficiently? I mean we as in this college family,” Nelson said.
Nelson has experience that has shown her there are always obstacles, even when you try your hardest to get to a location in crisis. “I have been the responding officer that has gotten there too late,” Nelson said. She mentioned that traffic, manpower issues and other unforeseen challenges are a cost of calling officers to campus.
Campus Resource Officers with proper training, proper support and a proper vetting process are what Nelson recommends.
Joe Chapman, president of the political science club spoke of their view of CROs on campus. “As a club, we feel it is unnecessary to have a police force on campus because of the low crime rates on campus and our biggest problem with this whole proposal is that we feel that you as a board have not done enough outreach to us as students recently,” Chapman said. “I do like that it will be a college sanctioned police force and the college will be in charge of prosecuting students.”
Sophia DeVries, a WCC student since 2008 shared her opinion against the armed officers on campus.
“I would like to say that I strongly oppose the police force,” DeVries said. “I don’t see any problems with the current security. I take night classes and have never felt unsafe. I feel a police force would make my fellow students feel more insecure. I am afraid that students with criminal records would be targeted and I am also worried that minority students would be unfairly targeted.”
Mark Engstrom, Lieutenant, Schoolcraft College Police Department spoke in support of a police force. He discussed the fact that every second in the minutes after an incident starts matter most, something campus officers can be quicker to handle.
“I am here to offer support of this proposal,” said Bob Heighes, Chief of Police at Eastern Michigan University.
Heighes believes that there is an important factor with being a self-policed campus, “You have total control. The real key to this whole crux is the people that you select and put in place,” Heighes said.
Liz Orbitz, dean of student support services at WCC read a letter written and signed by WCC counselors in support of the current CRO initiative.
“We the licensed professional counselors on campus agree that hiring CROs would be in the best interest of WCC at this time,” Orbitz said. “We do know that a combination of mental health services and physical security safety services are needed.”
Jim Stephenson, campus safety director at Concordia University Ann Arbor and retired Ann Arbor police officer helped Concordia transition into a private police force. The campus has both armed and unarmed officers.
“Armed individuals are retired police officers, with a great deal of experience,” Stephenson said.
He estimated the distance between Concordia’s campus and WCC at around one mile “as the crow flies.” “We also recognize that the response time from the Ann Arbor police department would considerably be five to seven minutes in a stressful or life threatening situation,” Stephenson said. “With armed personnel on our campus we can respond to any threat in less than two minutes.” Concordia’s experienced officers tutor and train the less experienced officers on a daily basis, something he calls a “win-win.”
Judy Bonnell-Wenzel, a local resident, returned to speak on the subject and offered her insight that a good counseling center is more important than armed officers.
“I believe that we could shore-up our counseling center, since we have, not that I know of, increased the number of counseling people,” Bonnell-Wenzel said. “I really believe that people need someone to talk to if they are disturbed.”
The next chance to participate in a public hearing about CROs will be May 23, 5 p.m. in ML 150.