By Brittany Dekorte
After months of discussion and public comment, Washtenaw Community College’s Board of Trustees brought the issue of campus safety to a vote. At the Sept. 19 meeting, the board voted 5-2 to go forward with creating a campus police force.
WCC is now served by a security department that is not armed or empowered to make arrests. The new police force will do both of these things, and would patrol campus from 7 or 8 in the morning to 11 at night.
Trustees David DeVarti and Ruth Hatcher were the dissenting voices to the vote. DeVarti was especially vocal, taking time during the board’s comments to read a statement he had prepared. That statement noted police violence around the nation and a recent suicide-by-cop incident at Georgia Tech.
“WCC does not have on-campus residents, we are not a 24/7 institution, we are not located geographically urban environment infested by crime,” DeVarti said. “It remains to be demonstrated to me that there exists any need for police on our campus.”
DeVarti ended his statement by pulling out a black tee shirt which read “I Can’t Breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner and his death at the hands of police officers in New York City in 2014.
The five board members who supported the measure, along with the head of campus safety Scott Hilden, feel the move is necessary. The college right now,
without the force, is feared to be considered a soft target for crime. WCC is also the only college in the county without it’s own campus police force, including other nearby community colleges like Macomb and Schoolcraft.
Before the discussion of gaining its own police force, the school set aside $330,000 in its budget to contract officers from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department. They now hope to use this money to hire their own officers.
Of the people who came to make public remarks before the vote, not all were in favor of the college gaining a police force. One dissenter asked to suspend the vote until after the Nov. 7 elections.
Rose Bellanca’s office sent out an email addressing the vote and the upcoming changes on Sept. 22. In the email, it was stated that the board has also directed the college to establish a public safety advisory committee and a campus-wide public safety committee. The email went on to state that “these committees will provide student, faculty and staff input on public safety and security policies and procedures so that the public safety department may best serve the needs of the college community.”
Before any campus police can be hired, WCC will have to work with the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.