Coming soon: campus police with guns?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead has caused many states, including Iowa, to examine the role that campus security plays in protecting students from similar situations. Gov. Chet Culver asked the public safety directors from the three public universities to give him their recommendations on what should be done on the campuses of Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.

The directors submitted a report to the governor last week and are recommending more study of the issue before the Iowa Board of Regents makes any changes to campus security. All three agree that campus police, who are currently unarmed, should be allowed to carry weapons, but the regents have the final word on the matter.

The safety directors, with the help of Iowa Homeland Security and the Department of Public Safety, reviewed existing procedures, including public safety staffing and training, emergency notification and response tactics as well as early detection of threatening individuals.

The regents won't decide on arming campus police until they have heard from the presidents of each of the universities. The regents feel that community wide discussions needed to be held at each of their campuses before any changes were considered.

There were some innovative ideas to improve communication and safety on campus that came out of this report and some of the concepts will be implemented as early as this fall. Ideas such as installing sirens to send voice messages, "reverse messaging" that sends voice and text messages to cell phones, boosting counseling services and finding ways to assess threats on campus.

It's likely that the Iowa Legislature will get involved in the discussion as well. While we all can agree that safety is a high priority for everyone from students to parents to educators, it will be essential that the complex issue be carefully studied before making any wholesale changes.

A knee-jerk reaction is the last thing that anyone wants.