Wheaton considers arming Public Safety officers, proposal in early stages

Wheaton College’s Public Safety Department is preparing a proposal to the college that will contain different options to allow Public Safety to become an armed security department.
Chief of Public Safety Bob Norris stated that over the past year a committee — including faculty, staff and one student — has been contemplating the pros and cons of arming Wheaton’s Public Safety department. Norris wanted to hear a wide variety of opinions on the topic.
Wheaton Chief of Police James F. Volpe suggested to The Record that switching to an armed security department will give public safety officers the ability to immediately address any deadly force threats. Volpe mentioned, however, that the high cost of training armed officers or hiring an armed security staff could be a possible disincentive.
Before any change would be made to arm Public Safety officers, the proposal — drafted by Norris and Auxiliary Services Director Tony Dawson — would have to be submitted to the treasurer and vice president for finance Dale Kemp, who would then present the proposal to the senior administrative cabinet. Because this is only a proposal, no immediate action would necessarily be taken. The proposal could theoretically be put to the side as an option for future security considerations.
“There’s a saying: ‘When seconds count, police are minutes away,’” said Norris. He explained that Public Safety has a great relationship with the Wheaton Police Department, but having a campus police presence that is more familiar with Wheaton’s campus and can respond faster is ideal.
Volpe believes “armed officers on campus are the best security in this climate of campus shootings.” He noted that Public Safety’s proposal is a “purely independent endeavor” led by Norris but that the Wheaton Police will assist in any way they can to help make the campus safer.
Regardless of the outcome of the proposal, Public Safety is continuing to take steps right now to enhance campus safety, including installing new communication systems — successfully tested during a lockdown drill earlier this month — and providing additional training for officers.
Some Christian academic institutions like Taylor University, Calvin College, Benedictine University and Gordon College have campus police departments with armed officers. Norris sees this as part of a growing trend.  
On Aug. 22, Liberty University, which already had an armed police department on campus, updated its weapons policy. Liberty’s weapons policy had required students to keep their concealed carry weapons locked in their cars when not in use. The new policy allows students to store their weapons in residence halls in a safe that can only be opened by those students and the LUPD.  
Those changes come on the heels of controversial comments made last December, shortly after the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., when president of Liberty University Jerry Falwell Jr. addressed the student body at convocation and urged them to consider carrying weapons.
Prior to the violence in San Bernardino, the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 prompted LU’s administration to allow students, faculty and staff — over 21 years of age and with a concealed carry permit from the Commonwealth of Virginia —  to carry concealed weapons on campus after receiving approval to carry on campus from LUPD. There are effectively no gun-free zones on Liberty’s campus.
Riley Hayes, a sophomore at Liberty, cited safety as the main motivation for Liberty’s updated concealed carry policy. Hayes expressed that he feels “much safer in an environment where [his] peers can carry concealed firearms.”
Wheaton could not institute a concealed carry policy similar to Liberty’s policy due to state restrictions. In Illinois, it is illegal for anyone besides police officers to have a gun on a college campus. However, officers with a college that has an armed security department are permitted to carry weapons.
Wheaton Student Body President Josh Rowley expressed confidence in Chief Norris and his team. “I know God has his hand of protection on this campus,” Rowley said before noting that it is “prudent” to consider options like armed security.
Rowley also invited feedback from the student body on the issue, saying that we ought to be “creating a safe environment from a physical standpoint” but also “creating an environment where students can feel safe.”

Leave a Reply