HARRISBURG — Luzerne County Community College President Tom Leary told a state Senate panel Wednesday his school was in the process of implementing armed security officers on its Nanticoke campus.
It’s a decision that was spurred by tragic events at college and even elementary school campuses nationwide, and one Leary sees as an unfortunate necessity.
While state-related universities including Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln are permitted, by law, to employ an armed police force on their campuses, community colleges are not.
It’s an issue state Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, is hoping to address via a pair of bills he has introduced in the Legislature that would grant private and community colleges the right to form campus police forces in a manner consistent with existing authority granted to the state-related universities.
Carroll’s bills also would permit private and community college campus police to patrol 500 yards from the campus to allow for protection at off-campus student housing, he said, which is also in line with the powers granted to state-related university police.
“Considering the highly trained nature of our community college and private university security forces, I think it’s quite appropriate to extend police power to these individuals and thereby augment the local and state police forces which are often stretched very thin,” Carroll said.
Though LCCC is looking into an armed security force, those guards would not have arrest powers, and Nanticoke or state police still would need to be called in to handle any crimes.
Currently, King’s College, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes University, Misericordia University and Luzerne County Community College employ unarmed campus security officers and rely on municipal police officers when their presence is needed. Spokespersons for King’s, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes and Misericordia said there are no discussions at this time about arming their officers. Penn State Hazleton does have armed campus police officers.
Leary testified of the hardships that college campuses have with trying to protect a large open campus filled with thousands of commuter students driving on and off campus day and night.
“It’s not possible to restrict access or lock it down … this leaves our institutions vulnerable,” Leary said. While most college students and administrators are aware that anything’s possible, he said, there’s still a feeling that something bad on a grand scale can’t happen on their campus.
“No one believes their college campus will fall victim of a tragedy, but we must remain vigilant,” Leary told the panel.
Bill Barrett, a former Wilkes-Barre police chief who now heads the 12-person security force at LCCC, said he believes at least half of the security force will begin carrying guns by the end of this academic year. It’s something he has been looking into for 18 months. And while he believes it will offer an extra level of protection for students, staff and faculty, he said, “we hope it’s something we have in place and never use.”