By Steven Cooper in News
Clark’s College Council is discussing contracting with the Vancouver Police Department to have an armed police officer present on the main campus.
College officials don’t have a plan yet and are only in the discussion phase. They want to hear the opinions of students, faculty and staff.
Clark President Bob Knight said, “I need to get back to the Board of Trustees about where the college is on this.”
Knight said VPD told Clark it would cost $110,000 a year for an officer on campus eight hours a day. Knight said Clark would also want a second part-time officer to ensure a presence during normal school hours—from about 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. He estimated that would cost $160,000 to $170,000 a year.
According to Knight, the primary purpose of armed officers would be to deter crime, especially crimes like a school shooting. The officer would also respond to crime and make arrests.
“There is data that shows that if the folks who do these sort of shootings know there is someone with a weapon at the facility, it sort of deters them from doing the things that they do,” Knight said. “But there’s no guarantee to that.”
However, an armed officer could help solve problems unrelated to shootings. Director of Security and Safety Ken Pacheco said campus security can’t make arrests. “We aren’t law enforcement. If we wanted an arrest made, we would have to call the Vancouver police and have them respond.”
According to Pacheco, an armed officer on campus could free up time for security. Pacheco said it often takes VPD 15 or more minutes to respond to criminal activity at Clark. An officer on campus could change that. “It would expedite their response,” Pacheco said.
Vice President of Administrative Services Bob Williamson said, “We’d want them on patrol. We’d want them to respond to thefts, auto-break-ins, altercations—those types of things.”
An online poll conducted by The Independent of 359 students showed a wide range of opinions regarding armed officers on campus.
Student Katherine Khalifa said, “Because of all the school shooting I would feel so much safer if I knew someone on campus had a gun to take care of the problem faster than waiting for the police to get there in time.”
Other students opposed a police presence. Nathan Stachurski said, “I feel our country is moving rapidly towards a policed nation. I believe this to be a terrible reality and one we must work to avoid.”
Chris Erbeck said in his poll response, “Clark College should be gun-free, and that includes security personnel. I see this as being overly reactive to a few incidents around the country.”
Others said students and faculty should be able to arm themselves. A student identifying himself as Josh said he supported having an armed officer but added, “Not having armed faculty members is almost an invite for armed people to come in and wreak havoc in a learning institution. This is especially horrifying to me, having a child in public elementary school who could be a potential victim if someone were to come into his school, which is also without armed security. A ‘gun-free zone’ posting basically declares that there will be no opposition to the gunman’s intentions until it is already too late.”
In a previous interview with The Independent, Pacheco clarified that contrary to what many people believe, both Washington state law and college policy allow students and faculty on campus to carry a concealed firearm provided they possess a valid concealed pistol license. Washington residents must be 21 or older and pass a background check to acquire a license.
Williamson and Pacheco said the discussion of armed officers isn’t new. The two first researched the cost of hiring a VPD officer in early 2013. College records also show that in May 2013 College Counsel discussed it.
“I think what’s resurrected it as a topic are the recent shootings that have occurred at college and school campuses,” Williamson said.
Clark has also discussed arming existing campus security, but determined that state law prohibits it.
Williamson said state law allows four-year universities and colleges to arm their security, but it does not mention two-year schools. According to Williamson, successive attorney generals have interpreted the law to mean that existing community colleges can’t arm their security. “Their reasoning is if the Legislature really wanted community colleges to have that authority, they would have been intentional in their language,” said Williamson.
Regarding hiring a VPD officer, Pacheco said he wants students, faculty and staff to create their own opinions before he says what his position is. “I wouldn’t want to say anything that would have someone mimic what I said.”
Pacheco said he believes the decision comes down to the cost versus the benefits. “There’s benefits to it, but you have to weigh the negatives. And one of the negatives is obviously the cost.”
In their poll responses, many students said the financial cost prompted them to disapprove of hiring an officer. Another student who identified himself as Josh said, “Placing one additional officer on campus is insignificant and a waste of campus funds at the tune of almost 200k a year. It’s too expensive for too marginal of a benefit.”
Pacheco explained, “You don’t just pay the officer’s salary. You also pay their benefits.” Pacheco also said there’s a cost associated with the computer system the officer would use. Additionally, there would be an extra cost if Clark wanted the officer to have access to a police car. “You end up paying for everything,” Pacheco said.
Ultimately, it’s up to college officials to decide whether it’s worth the cost.
Knight said, “We don’t want to be reactive. We don’t want to wish afterwards that we had somebody on campus.” But Knight then added, “Even if we did get extra security, there’s no guarantee. When you’ve got an individual that wants to go crazy, it’s hard to plan for that.”