The Mercyhurst University Board of Trustees may decide at its May 31 meeting whether to approve issuing firearms to the university’s Police & Safety officers.
At its Feb. 22 meeting, the board opted not to make a decision on the matter, saying it needed more information about insurance liability and to have campus-wide forums on the matter.
The board will also open the May 31 meeting to hear from Police & Safety officers who wish to make their case to the trustees.
For now, many students remember the Sept. 20 incident on campus when a mentally-disturbed individual came onto campus and shot himself with a rifle in front of Old Main.
Some students asked what could have happened if the man actually went into one of the buildings and started shooting.
The question of whether or not Police & Safety should carry firearms has gone on for years.
Gerard Tobin, Ph.D., who is leading the study for the Board of Trustees, revealed one incident that occurred in 2012.
During a live exercise simulating a bomb threat at the CAE, “our Police and Safety officers (brought the emergency responders) to the building and (Police & Safety) were not permitted to enter the building because they were unarmed. And the emergency responders had to go in blind.”
Tobin said the administration began to realize its strategy of how Police & Safety responded to emergencies needed serious re-evaluation. It then began evaluating the need for firearms for campus officers.
“The trend for colleges since 2007 is, if you have a sworn police force, to arm them,” he said.
Sworn officers would be better trained than many departments.
“By law, a sworn department has to qualify (on firearms) once a year,” said Chief Robert Kuhn.
“I’m going to do it four times a year, twice with live fire, and twice with a firearms training simulator” which would simulate scenarios which would require “shoot or don’t shoot” responses and would test the officers’ judgment skills.
The highly-trained and highly-educated Police & Safety department (Kuhn has two degrees; several of his co-workers have master’s degrees, and all are police academy graduates) exists to serve the student body.
Tobin said survey data shows that 91 percent of traditional students favor Police & Safety having some sort of access to a firearm, whether as a traditional sidearm or within a locked cabinet in the police vehicle. These figures are higher among associate degree students.