Student reaction mixed over new campus police weapon policy

On April 20, President Christopher Dahl issued a campus-wide e-mail notifying community members that University Police (UP) would begin carrying firearms at all times instead of keeping them secured in locked boxes in their vehicles and offices.

This decision stems from a previous policy that dates back to 1999 when the New York State Legislature granted "full police status to what had been better known as campus security officers," Dahl said. With this new-found status, however, Dahl did not approve UP requests to wear guns on their person. "We decided that the crime statistics and other data did not suggest the need for carrying arms, even though they [UP officers] continued to have all of the arms training," he said.

This policy, however, was revised in 2004 to include the provision that UP officers were allowed to have firearms in lockboxes both in the police station as well as in their vehicles.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, Dahl has once again modified the arms policy so as to fit the needs of the campus. According to Dahl, one of the primary reasons for altering this policy is that "if there is a tiny chance that having the officers able to have the guns and not spend a minute accessing them, that could make the difference between life and death for the officer or a student."

Student reaction to the decision has been very mixed, although more students seem to agree with the new policy than oppose. "I think that it is a good idea given what has just happened [at Virginia Tech]," said Brianna Iervese. "I agree with it because if a situation like what occurred at Virginia Tech should happen, they need to be armed and ready," added freshman Erin Filippini.

Some students who think the policy is a good idea did have reservations. Senior Mohammad Partapurwala stated that "It's not a bad thing, my only concern would be that the presence of guns might allow someone to take the gun off the UP officer in a fight." Freshman Sarah Smithers said, "I have mixed feelings about it. As long as they are responsible though, it should be ok."

Those who oppose the policy say the change may not be helpful in a real life crisis situation. Sophomore Emily Upham said, "I'm actually against it. I think that they shouldn't change the logistics just because of one event and assume we have the same risk." Reflecting on the events of the Virginia Tech tragedy, student Tracy Gosta said, "I don't see how that will stop anyone who wants to do that. It may or may not help."

The general sentiment among students, however, was sadness at the recent events that have happened. Many said they understand the need for UP to be prepared for difficult situations. Senior Dara Omer stated, "I think it is reasonable that they should have them because they are trained to use them."

Chief of University Police James Stenger was out of the office Monday and Tuesday and was unable to respond before the printing of this issue. According to Dahl, officer opinion has been overwhelmingly in support of full arming.

Geneseo is the only college left in the SUNY system that does not adhere to the policy of having their police officers carry firearms at all times. "I'm comfortable with this [status] because I think there is no other campus that's quite like Geneseo - we have a special location and student body, a great police force, and two other police forces, a third which is a ten minute drive away," he said. However, Dahl did say he feels the need to become united with SUNY in a time where the system is under scrutiny in terms of campus safety.

"This change is not a 180 degree shift," said Dahl. "I want the people in our community to understand what is going on, which is why I've replied to faculty and student e-mails regarding this issue," he said. "We think the police are here to help build community and they should be doing community policing. Now, they can do that to their fullest potential while ensuring safety for all."