The shooting at Umpqua Community College renewed conversation among the administration about security on Clark’s campus.
On Oct. 1, a gunman entered Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon killing nine students before being neutralized by police officers responding to 911 calls.
Twenty days later at Clark, 181 miles north of the Umpqua campus, the College Council discussed security and possibly hiring an on-campus police officer.
President Bob Knight said not all gun violence can be prevented, but steps can be taken to deter it. “You just make it known that we can react very quickly,” he said. “We have procedures in place to keep people safe.”
Knight said Washington law allows for armed security guards at universities, but not on community college campuses. A police officer would have to be contracted to have an armed presence on Clark’s campus.
Bob Williamson, vice president of Administrative Services, said hiring an on-campus officer is a contentious issue. “We find that students are much more comfortable with an armed presence on campus than faculty and staff, because [they’re] used to it, [they’ve] seen it.”
A poll by the Independent last year showed that 65 percent of 359 students supported the hiring of an on-campus officer.
Williamson said hiring an on-campus officer could provide several benefits including quicker response times, direct knowledge of the campus and stronger relationships with the security director and staff.
“If I have a concern about it, it’s the potential that it will raise false expectations,” Williamson said. “One armed law enforcement officer on campus isn’t going to prevent, or respond to, every possible incident on a 100-acre campus. It just can’t happen.”
Ken Pacheco, director of Security and Safety, outlined the costs associated with hiring an on-campus officer. The Vancouver Police Department provided estimates based on resource officers in Vancouver Public Schools.
Pacheco said that training, salary, benefits, vehicle usage, overtime and administrative costs — which include a supervisory sergeant’s salary — add up to the $160,000—$170,000 cost of hiring an on-campus officer for the hours the campus is open.
Pacheco said Spokane Community College urged the Security and Safety Emergency Management Committee, comprised of security directors from the 34 technical and community colleges in Washington, to petition for legislation to give community colleges the option of having armed security guards on campus. This could provide an armed presence while circumventing the costs of hiring a police officer.
Knight expects the issue to be discussed at the next Presidents’ Council, a meeting of the presidents of 34 community and technical colleges in Washington, at Bellingham Community College Nov. 5.
Knight said he would like colleges to have the option of armed security, whether Clark decides to or not. He added that any armed security personnel would have to be properly trained before being allowed on campus.
Rep. Jim Moeller agrees the option to have armed security should be universal for two- and four-year schools. “It should be the same for everybody, so if we allow for security at universities, then it should be allowed for all institutions,” Moeller said. However, he would prefer for universities and community colleges to be firearm-free.
Moeller is not aware of any current legislation addressing security on community college campuses but will be introducing a bill to eliminate assault weapons in Washington.
Moeller, who also works as a substance abuse counselor, stressed the need to pay attention to the root of most mass-shootings. “I think we can address the whole issue of gun violence by addressing mental health,” Moeller said.
Dr. Don Ludwig is a sociology professor at Clark. “One of the common characteristics [of mass shooters] is that they’re not connected to groups or their community,” Ludwig said. “We are the only advanced civilization in the world that stigmatizes mental health, and those who we regard as being mentally ill are marginalized by our dominant culture.”
Ludwig said schools, churches, theaters and other public locations are targets because of what they represent. “Being violent in any one of these venues where people normally feel safe is attacking not just individuals, but it’s attacking a system.”
Faculty and staff make it a point to be aware of students that seem disconnected and that this is the best way to prevent heinous violence, Ludwig said. He also said students should try to be aware of their surroundings and peers.
Ludwig said he believes creating programs to increase safety and security awareness, as well as community development, would be a more effective use of the funds considered for an on-campus officer.
“Maybe the Vancouver Police [Department] can be brought in as a partner in creating some of these programs so their voice is heard and shared, but not for the purposes of guarding,” Ludwig said. “One guard isn’t going to see the whole campus.”
Knight said one of his primary responsibilities as president is to make sure students have a safe and secure campus. “I will do what is feasible to make that happen, but I don’t want to be wasteful with money,” Knight said. “You can’t stop a guy that is crazy and just doesn’t tell anybody and is willing to give up his own life, so you’ve got to be careful that you don’t throw a lot of good money against bad if it doesn’t make any difference.”
Moeller agreed safety is a priority. “We’re all concerned about it, and I think the issue is really: one, sensible gun legislation; and two, addressing the issue of mental health.”
The Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment team is a resource available to students, faculty and staff to report any suspicious or worrisome behavior. Students and faculty can file an online BITA report by going to Clark’s homepage and searching for BITA, or in-person at the security kiosk in Gaiser Hall.
BITA reports are immediately sent to one of seven trained team members who then decide the proper action to take. Pacheco said there are counselors available for students to speak to and who can help them find mental health resources from the community. Reports can be made anonymously but Pacheco said he prefers some kind of contact information to check the validity.
Williamson suggested students also sign up for RAVE, Clark’s text messaging emergency notification system. “Familiarize yourself with our procedures, what to do in a lockdown, what to do in an evacuation and participate and practice in the drills.”
Students with a concealed pistol license are legally allowed to carry firearms on campus but Williamson said faculty and administrators discourage it.
He also stressed the “concealed” part of concealed pistol license.
Student Resources: BITA: (Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment) Search BITA on Clark’s homepage to find a referral form, or go the Security Kiosk in Gaiser Hall.
Clark’s Emergency Text Messaging System RAVE: Go to https://www.getrave.com/login/clark
Clark County Crisis Line 360-696-9560
Clark Security 3690-992-2133