Campus Reacts to Decision to Arm Safety Officers


Connor Swagler, Reporter

Students still have a few questions about the university’s decisions to arm officers, which it announced Feb. 20.

Kathleen Foley, Vice President of Student Life, said everyone on campus had plenty of time to share their views before the final decision was made.

“I think there are varied opinions regarding how the campus views this. However, everyone on campus had an opportunity for their voice to be heard through the process, either by attending an open forum or submitting their thoughts online,” said Foley.

Mark Seewald, a junior psychology major, understands why university officials would want officers to carry guns in the event of an active shooter on campus. However, he said that the wording found in the university’s announcement that officers may need firearms in the case of a “violent person using deadly force on campus” is not entirely clear.

“I think the deadly force thing can get a little iffy,” he said. “You know you can kill someone if you punch them enough times. When would be the threshold where it would be appropriate to get the guns involved, and would it possibly lead to the escalation of situations instead of de-escalation, in some cases?” Seewald asked.

Robert Zavada, Director of Campus Safety and Security, Robert Zavada explained that arming officers was not an idea out of the blue, but a precaution for a worst case scenario only.

“Of course it’s been in discussion for a long time, because we look at things happening nationally, and recent incidences show there are very few ways to predict when these things can occur and where it might happen,” said Zavada.

Zavada said the university’s emergency response plan was not the result of any incident but the result of needs revealed by an analysis of an outside agency, under direction of President Botzman, who wanted to see if the university’s plan had any gaps or limitations.

“We found out we had many strengths, we did a lot of things very well, but there was some gap noticed in-between in the time of if there ever was a violent occurrence, and when we could actually get help from law enforcement agencies,” said Zavada.

Campus Safety will also be outfitted with other types of equipment to better protect the campus community, including equipment such as ballistics vests.

Zavada said that providing Campus Safety officers with non-lethal weapons, such as mace or stun guns, wasn’t an optimal plan for one reason: Campus safety officers are not police, nor are they assuming the role of police officers, he said.

“I’m not a big proponent of that kind of equipment, because they are tools of trying to take somebody into custody. We’re not trying to do that, because we’re not trying to become a police department,” said Zavada.

The University will work in cooperation with community and neighboring police departments.

Zavada said all officers who carry guns will be properly and thoroughly trained. Armed officers must have Lethal Weapons Training Act 235 certification and the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officers Act 120 certification or equivalent state and federal training.

Zavada said members of the entire university community contributed to making the decision to arm officers, and the process represents a good example of the community working cooperatively to reach a final resolution.