University of La Verne officials decided against campus safety officers being equipped with pepper spray or batons, after members of the community expressed concerns about the policy.
Under the direction of Vice President of Facilities and Technology Clive Houston-Brown, administration decided on a policy to equip officers with defensive tools in the summer of 2014.
In the fall of the same year, prior to officers having these tools, Houston-Brown agreed to delay the new policy so the community could engage in a deeper discussion about the controversial issue.
“The door’s not 100 percent closed, but it’s probably more closed than not at this stage,” Houston-Brown said.
The topic of arming officers first came to prominence when officers expressed concerns about not having any means of self-defense during late-night property-checks around campus or in isolated areas, such as Campus West.
“Sometimes it can be a little scary,” said Jeff Clark, interim director of campus safety. “You never know what the neighbors or anything else are doing over there. There’s an apprehension of the officers when they’re out there doing that type of security work.”
Clark described one such incident earlier this year, where a female officer confronted a homeless man who had been wandering around campus and attempting to enter Leo Hall after hours.
The person in question was intoxicated and upon being reprimanded, he tried to attack the officer, who had no means of defending herself.
After the initial decision to equip officers had been made, Clark spent the summer making sure officers had proper training in baton and pepper spray conduct before the brakes were put on the policy.
The decision not to arm officers after all came as a direct result of community concerns.
“They just felt that given what was going on in the nation at that time — with Ferguson and everything else — that we didn’t want to put our campus safety officers in a position where they might improperly use something like that,” Houston-Brown said. “In the end, it’s not a financial decision or an insurance decision or anything like that. It really comes down to a philosophical decision.”
Another argument against arming officers — even with defensive tools — was rooted in the University’s pacifist history. The Church of the Brethren, which founded ULV in 1891, harbored a strict set of pacifist beliefs, and members of the La Verne community felt that arming officers would transgress on these founding principles.
“I am motivated to figure out ways in which we can create a safe environment that does not require weapons or tools that can be used for harming others,” University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner said.
Clark said he understood the pros and the cons on both sides of the discussion, but was nonetheless critical of the decision to not equip officers after all.
“I discern it to not giving a plumber a crescent wrench or the tools to do their job,” Clark said. “We’re just here to provide a deterrent and protection for the students if something should arise and we have to step in. Right now officers don’t have anything to provide that protection other than to sacrifice their body.”
In an attempt to better facilitate the community-wide discussion, the University formed the Campus Safety Officer Distinction Committee in April of this year. The six-person committee meets monthly and is composed of faculty members aiming to better the campus safety office without the use of weapons of any kind.
The committee tries to balance a wide range of principles.
“I think the committee is very open to our pacifist background and trying to find solutions that don’t default to arming our campus safety officers,” Wagoner said. “It’s been a very encouraging and positive experience to be part of this committee that is responsive to both our heritage and our student population in order to create a safe environment. It’s been a very good process to talk about this stuff openly.”
The University has also formed the Community Outreach Committee, which is made up of members from both the University and the La Verne Police Department.
“I’m proud of the university for having a conversation about excellence,” Beatriz Gonzalez, associate provost for faculty affairs, said. “Instead of patching and being reactionary, they’re thinking about what excellence looks like and trying to achieve that in an informed, methodical way.”
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