Controversy at the University of Rochester brews over arming security officers

The University of Rochester Security Officers Association has issued a vote of no confidence in Walter Mauldin, the university's manager of security services. Mauldin recently refused to authorize security officers to carry firearms.

The vote came in the wake of a violent incident last month in which three security officers were injured while responding to "a brawl at the University's Douglass Dining Center," according to a URSOA statement printed in the Oct. 12 issue of Rochester's Democrat & Chronicle.

"Without training, equipment and sufficient personnel, the security officers cannot protect themselves, or university students, faculty, administration and visitors," wrote the URSOA in its statement, adding that the injuries could have been prevented had the officers been adequately equipped and trained to respond to violent crime.

"Violent incidents frequently occur on or near the campus where the security officers patrol," the statement reads. Three such incidents were recorded last May.

"In today's world, the need is becoming greater" to have armed security on college campuses, said Sal Simonetti, chief of University Police at Geneseo.

Geneseo's University Police have been armed since April 2007; the decision to arm them was made just days after the fatal shooting at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Geneseo was the latest SUNY institution to arm its campus officers.

"It's a good policy," said Simonetti of the decision to arm UP officers. "It's important not only for the police officer's own safety but also for the safety of the college community."

No officers have fired a weapon since taking up arms, Simonetti said.

Simonetti said that there are important differences SUNY police officers at Geneseo and the security officers employed by private universities like the University of Rochester. SUNY police officers, said Simonetti, are "full-fledged police officers who carry the same responsibilities and level of expectation from the public" as the Geneseo village police force does. The officers at the University of Rochester, on the other hand, are part of a private security force whose role is flexible depending on the expectations of the employer.

"It all comes down to the expectations of the college community," Simonetti said. The University of Rochester community, Simonetti said, must decide whether or not it is comfortable with the level of response that an unarmed officer can provide, and whether it is comfortable waiting for an armed police officer from another force to arrive at a violent crime scene. "If you don't arm security officers there is going to be only so much they can do," he said.

Arming security officers, however, raises liabilities of the university. "Without proper policies, procedures and training, you run the risk of responding to something in a way that might not have the expected results," Simonetti said.