By mid-March, 19 full-time and four per-diem officers will begin carrying .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic handguns that use basic .40-caliber police-approved ammunition, said college spokesman Martin McGovern.
For the first time in its history, Stonehill College will begin arming its police officers, one of several steps taken to improve campus security.
By mid-March, 19 full-time and four per-diem officers will begin carrying .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic handguns that use basic .40-caliber police-approved ammunition, said college spokesman Martin McGovern.
Both are comparable to what is used by campus and municipal police across the country, including in Easton, and were chosen because of their safety record, McGovern said.
In addition to arming police, the college has stepped up other security measures.
Ninety percent of students are able to receive automatic emergency text message alerts; a campus gatehouse is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; outdoor lighting has been improved; and there is a card access system for the residence halls.
“Not just in light of Virginia Tech and the other awful incidents that have occurred on campuses, but you have to be realistic,” said McGovern. “We have a big, open campus, and our goal is to make it as safe as possible.”
Student reaction to the arming of police officers has been varied, said Hunter McCormick, a senior who is student body president.
While chatter on the Internet showed concern about the decision, many students didn’t realize the police were unarmed in the first place, McCormick said.
“I can understand and appreciate that though Stonehill is nestled in a little corner of Easton, at the same time we’re not isolated from outside concerns, and anything is possible,” McCormick said.
Since the attack at Virginia Tech in April 2007, colleges and universities across the country have debated the merits of arming campus police.
Stonehill President Mark T. Cregan noted that a report last year to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education called for all campus police departments to be armed. Of the 55 schools surveyed, 31 had armed departments.
Easton Police Chief Thomas F. Kominsky said he favored Stonehill’s decision.
“We welcome that concept,” said Kominsky.
Kominsky said Stonehill officers often respond to calls with Easton police and have “backed us up on some high-risk calls” on Route 138 and Route 123 near the campus.
Some special police officers in Easton are also Stonehill officers. They have been armed while serving with Easton, but unarmed when working for Stonehill, he said.
At Bridgewater State College, which has 10,000 students and 1,000 faculty, Police Chief David Tillinghast said campus police have been armed since the force was formed in 1966.
Twenty-one full-time officers and 15 part-time reserve officers carry .40-caliber Glock handguns, Tillinghast said. Since Virginia Tech, all cruisers are equipped with shotguns and patrol rifles, along with non-lethal weapons that shoot beanbags.
“I’ve done a lot of consulting on this issue and I have to say it’s absolutely essential that all police be armed,” said Tillinghast. “I think this is a wise decision on the part of the Stonehill administration.”
Michael Graca, a spokesman for Wheaton College in Norton, said the school’s police are trained at the state police academy, but do not carry weapons.
“Our officers are not armed with guns,” said Graca. “There have been no discussions, and we have no plans to do so at this time ... We have every confidence that we have a well-trained and well-equipped officers corps to provide security.”
Graca noted that Wheaton works closely with the Norton Police Department, headquartered less than a half-mile away.
McCormick said many Stonehill students were concerned about armed police in the residence halls.
In response, the college created a “community policing” program of unarmed officers to provide educational programming in the residence halls, building security and safety patrols.
When situations arise within dorms, the resident directors and resident assistants will continue to be the first responders. A campus officer will be called by them if needed, the college said.
The campus officers at Stonehill received state and municipal firearms training and underwent mandatory psychological testing, the college said.
Vicki-Ann Downing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.