By Ala Kaymaram
In an attempt to strengthen campus safety, Washtenaw Community College has been considering adding campus resource officers to its security personnel. Campus resource officers are Michigan police officers who will be trained to work in an educational setting.
Like police officers, campus resource officers are armed and have the ability to make criminal arrests. The resource officers will go through training by the The National Association of School Resource Officers. Through the training, they will learn how to interact with young adults and how to respond to everyday situations that might occur on a college campus.
Last semester in an online video, College President Rose Bellanca addressed this issue and elaborated on her administration’s efforts in finding the best solution for enhancing campus safety.
“We surveyed students, faculty, and staff to get opinions on campus safety,” Bellanca said. “We brought in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office and had extensive discussions with them. We visited other community colleges in our area and across the state to understand how they have addressed this issue.”
Both President Bellanca and Chief of Public Safety and Emergency Management Scott Hilden support adding resource officers. Hilden said that, without question, resource officers will be a positive addition to the current safety team, and will strengthen WCC’s safety and security.
Hilden wants to make sure that his team has the resources to respond to a variety of situations that might arise on a college campus. He said that WCC has a very safe campus, but having resource officers will strengthen safety and minimize the response time to situations that might occur. The current campus safety department does not have the authority nor resources to deal with threats of violence, weapons, and criminal matters.
All criminal cases must be turned in to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department. Hilden noted that adding resource officers will increase the capability of WCC Campus Safety Department to respond to unknown variables and situations that might arise.
Some members of the campus community are skeptical of the program. Questions have been raised about the process of hiring and integrating resource officers on campus and whether or not students have had sufficient time to offer their views.
Another concern of people who are against the initiative is that having armed officers on campus might raise tensions. Some students don’t feel comfortable with having armed officers on campus, and are concerned about the possibility of student encounters escalating in ways they do not have to worry about with the current, unarmed security staff.
Hilden stressed the fact that prospective campus resource officers are highly qualified with the right character and values to work in an educational setting.
“In the simplest form, it’s taking steps to make our campus safer, and let students focus on academics and enjoy the services,” Hilden said.
The next step in the process of adding campus resource officers is in the hands of the board of trustees. Sometime in the fall, they will review and vote on the proposed measure. If they vote in favor, then the hiring process will start.
Both Bellanca and Hilden mentioned the customer-focused approach of WCC campus safety department. Hilden also stressed communication as the key to having a great relationship with the campus community.
“Ultimately, we want students to enjoy their academic career and don’t worry about anything else except going to school,” Hilden said.