How to Arm Campus Police without Community Backlash

Endicott College in Massachusetts used calculated strategies to bring its community to terms with armed campus safety officers.

Endicott College in Massachusetts will begin arming its campus police force on July 1 this year.

The decision isn’t necessarily a surprise, with a recent survey showing 75 percent of colleges that enroll more than 2,500 students have an armed campus police force.

Still, any decision that leads to more guns on campus is often met with a level of skepticism and anxiety from some members of the college community.

Some people see an armed campus police force as a threat to the campus climate or culture, while other people fear accidents or abuse of powers by security officers with guns.

That’s why Endicott, a private college with less than 5,000 students, operated with an abundance of caution when considering arming its campus police.

It began with a five-month process where college officials conducted hearings with students and a parent advisory board to get a better understanding of the community’s opinion of armed security officers. Additional surveys were also sent to parents, according to USA Today.

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The surveys showed around three quarters of students and parents supported the idea of arming campus police. That meant a small but significant group of people were opposed to the idea of more guns on campus.

Endicott President Richard E. Wylie started by acknowledging that the people against arming officers had reasons to be concerned and laid out narrow, specific guidelines for the use of the weapons. “I don’t like guns, I don’t want to see guns … it’s really torn me apart because I do not like firearms of any kind,” Wylie said. “This is not something that escalates into something else … this is a quick, first response to a crisis only.”

Wylie then informed the community of his decision to arm the officers with a Jan. 21 press release that laid out the benefits of arming officers while trying to ease people’s lingering concerns.

The release stressed that all armed officers will have completed the Massachusetts Reserve Police Academy program and participate in annual training with the Massachusetts State Police. “These campus police officers are excellent candidates,” the release read. “They all have completed between 240 and 350 hours of training and have demonstrated their continuing commitment to the Endicott community.”

President Wylie also informed the campus community that student committees would be created to monitor the police force and its use of firearms.

In the end, Endicott’s inclusive decision making process and transparent reasoning helped dull the backlash to bringing guns on campus.

“Students said, ‘Doc, I didn’t support you on your decision [to arm campus police], but I’ll support you because the decision’s been made,” Wylie said.

Perhaps the most important consequence of the process is that if something does happen, Wylie isn’t the obvious person to blame because it was a community-wide decision.

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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