Police & Safety emphasizes firearms training

Mike Murphy photo: Police and Safety officers will undergo rigorous testing and training if the Board of Trustees approves giving them firearms.Mike Murphy photo: Police and Safety officers will undergo rigorous testing and training if the Board of Trustees approves giving them firearms.On May 31, the Board of Trustees will vote as to whether campus Police and Safety will be armed.

Currently, Chief Robert Kuhn says, “97 percent of colleges in the country have armed officers.”

Bill Hale, director of the Municipal Police Training Academy at Mercyhurst North East, said, “With recent events all around the country and the speed at which these events occur requires a protocol of immediate action. Officers do not have the luxury any longer of waiting for back-up.”

Mercyhurst is the only college left in this area that does not arm its officers.

Should the motion pass through the Board of Trustees, there are already plans for the officers’ firearms training. Over the summer the officers will prepare themselves and qualify.

“To qualify means each officer has met a particular standard. At the police academy cadets must total at least 230/300 points to qualify,” Hale said. There is also a written exam covering other issues regarding firearms such as safety and the use of force.

Pennsylvania requires that all officers qualify once a year. Kuhn plans on his officers qualifying four times a year. Two of those times the officers will qualify with “live fire.” This means that the officers shoot real ammunition at a target for precision.

The other two qualification tests will be done through a Firearms Training Simulator (FATS). The simulator depicts different situations that may arise. According to Kuhn, this training is highly beneficial because, in addition to precision practice, “it also teaches you to think.”

It is important to note, Hale adds, “This offers officers a platform to be placed safely in some use of force and decision making scenarios” but, “this is all the tool is used for.”

The FATS does not stand as a replacement for using live fire in marksmanship training. “Police academy cadets spend 16 hours on the mechanics of their weapon and safety then 80 hours at the firing range,” Hale said.

Kuhn explains that it was necessary to get “the college community educated” before any measures were taken. It is important to note that all of the campus police officers are in fact Police Academy graduates and sworn Pennsylvania police officers.

“They aren’t just kids out of the police academy with no experience,” Kuhn said.

Hale added, “Let’s not forget that all sworn officers already have been qualified via a police academy.” The officers have experience levels that range from Erie Police Department to state police work. Some have won awards for their service.

They have been armed in the past and in order to better protect the campus and themselves, there is no reason for them not to be armed now.

With the addition of the K-9 officer on campus and the settlement of arming its police officers, Mercyhurst Police and Safety continues to adapt in order to better protect the students and their officers.

“These individuals [officers] who raise their hand and swear to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth and protect its citizens are offering to place themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety of anyone associated with or simply visiting the University,” Hale said.