Villanova considers arming its police

Samuel White, a senior, said he favored a trained, sworn police force but without guns.
Samuel White, a senior, said he favored a trained, sworn police force but without guns. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 30, 2013

RADNOR TWP. Villanova University is considering joining the ranks of colleges with a full-service police force, a national trend that has accelerated since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and amid stepped-up concern about student safety.

But the Main Line university - which announced a series of campus meetings to discuss a possible upgrade from its current public-safety department - will not yet discuss details of what it is considering, such as whether officers would carry guns. Even without much information, Villanova's tentative steps have sparked concern among some students and surprised police in Radnor Township, who were not consulted.

"I would have liked a little more professional courtesy," said Radnor Police Superintendent William Colarulo, who said he had had a good relationship with Villanova in the past and was "a bit taken aback." He said he had heard rumors of the move a few months ago and was initially told they were not true, but when the talk persisted, his lieutenant was told it was "a possibility."

Villanova now has 46 patrol officers, who are mostly responsible for parking enforcement, residence-hall protection, building security, and crime prevention, according to its website. They call on Radnor Township police when there is a crime on campus and to make arrests.

Colarulo said his force responds to 400 to 500 calls a year from the 10,600-student Catholic university. "We're in the process of having an internal dialogue," Villanova spokesman Jonathan Gust said, adding that the university did not want to talk publicly about the proposal until the meetings were over this week.

The majority of American colleges and universities – including many area schools such as Penn, Drexel, and West Chester University – have armed campus police with the power to make arrests. Bucknell University, with 3,500 students in central Pennsylvania, joined that roster in 2008.

"You hate to say it, but society as it is, the school shootings . . . you want people trained who can respond as quickly as possible," said Stephen Barilar, chief of Bucknell's force. Since getting firearms, he said, his officers have not had to use them.

The last major survey of campus security by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004-05 found that 74 percent of colleges and universities had sworn law enforcement officers with arrest powers, and two-thirds of those had armed campus police. Experts say those numbers are certainly higher today, in part because of efforts to reassure students and their parents about safety after episodes like the Virginia Tech shooting, which claimed 33 lives.

"We got calls from a lot of schools thinking of going to an armed agency," said Christopher G. Blake, chief staff officer of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

He said a switch to guns typically means increased liability insurance costs and requires additional officer training as well as decisions on what weapons to purchase and policies on when officers can use lethal force.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, said she, too, thought more colleges were looking to hire armed officers rather than rely on local municipalities.

"The best way to increase safety on campus is with officers with arresting power who are armed," she said.

Some students and others at Villanova are not so sure.

Samuel White, 21, a senior mathematics and humanities major, said he supports having a trained, sworn police force but without weapons.

At a meeting White attended, Dave Tedjeske, director of Public Safety, stressed the need for armed officers in the event of a campus shooting, White said.

Will Kapcio, also a senior, thinks that scenario is unlikely.

"This is a pretty safe area," he said, but added, "I'd be OK with maybe Tasers, as they probably should be able to defend themselves, but firearms seem unnecessary since the Radnor Police Department is so close."


kboccella@phillynews.com610-313-8232 @kathyboccella

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