On Mon., Oct. 19, Villanova University announced its intent to create its own police force within its public safety department. The department expects that the 75-member security force will eventually include 19 armed police officers. The transition process is set to begin immediately and will take about a year to complete. Current employees will be able to apply for officer positions and, if accepted, will have to go through training in a police academy.
This change is going to provide some important advantages to Villanova’s public safety department. Currently, public safety vehicles do not have lights or sirens, there is no direct access to 911 dispatch or criminal databases, security personnel cannot detain people without permission, and officers do not carry firearms. This is all going to change. A press release from Villanova indicated the rationale behind the decision: “By creating a department with both security and police officers, the University can provide a higher level of campus safety, quicker response time and enhanced partnerships with local law enforcement.”
In a letter sent out to Villanova students and alumni, University President Fr. Peter Donahue wrote, “After prayerful reflection and extensive discussion, I recommended, and the Board of Trustees approved, establishing a university police department that will be armed.” The letter also notes that all public safety officers will receive training in conflict resolution, anti-bias, and sensitivity. Additionally, an oversight committee will be responsible for making sure that appropriate safeguards are in place and that all policies and procedures are followed correctly.
Thus far, responses from the Villanova community have been mixed. Some students are comfortable with the change, knowing that the majority of colleges and universities have a police
force. Freshman Austin Ramos stated, “I think people are overreacting…We have cops driving around anyway. I feel like it would make our campus a lot safer. As long as they’re trained, what is the difference?” However, some students are not happy with the decision and have begun to protest. These students fear that police will abuse their power, especially in light of Ferguson and other recent police shooting incidents. Student protest leader Brendan Cardichi commented, “I certainly do not think arming Public Safety will make everyone on campus feel safe…Invoking more fear into the lives of people of color on campus will only break our community up. Is that what the university really wants?” Others think that the presence of guns on campus is unnecessary, that it will create a negative environment, and that it is not in line with the school’s values. Kate Walsh, a senior and protest organizer, said, “I think my number one response would be that it has betrayed our trust because it was done without consideration of the concerns raised during the three short forums in the fall of 2013, and more importantly of our values as an Augustinian University. There is nothing Augustinian about this, let alone Catholic.”
Many have wondered whether this decision is a response to the recent 4chan gun threat to Philadelphia area schools. Villanova administrators say that though the threat was a factor in the decision, it was by no means the primary one. Assistant Vice President Chris Kovolski stated in an interview with 6abc, “This was a conversation that took over two years. We went about it in a very thorough, thoughtful, respectful way. We engaged members of our community throughout the process…We’re fortunate to be a very safe campus and a safe community. However, we’ve seen safe communities are not immune from these types of incidents.”
Sources: 6abc.com, vuhoops.com, villanova.edu