Menu

Student Senate to NCC: We want an armed police force

Photo by Devon Walker

On Nov. 17th, NCC Student Senate voted unanimously on a resolution favoring a transition from campus security to a uniformed campus police force.

The resolution vote happened during a scheduled Student Senate meeting at College Center on NCC’s Main campus. Student Senate will now appeal to a number of student and administrative groups on all NCC campuses, eventually taking their case to NCC’s Board of Trustees through Student Senate President, Patrick Grifone, next semester.

The resolution, after undergoing several drafts in late November, was put into a written memorandum in early December and is to be circulated at a Senate Town Hall meeting on Dec 8th. The meeting will also cover fire safety, medical emergency preparedness and “go-green sustainability.”

The motion for a resolution was proposed to Student Senate after a presentation by the Safety Enhancement Committee (originally named the Security Enhancement Committee), a body within Student Senate. Members of the committee include Senators William Clark, William Feliciano, and Pedro DePaula.

Converting campus security was a major plank in both Clark and Feliciano’s campaign platforms. Both were sworn in as general members of Student Senate on Sept 22nd. An estimated 500 to 700 students voted in the elections, according to Frank Pologruto, Student Senate advisor and Student Life Director.

The sudden and unexpected vote even took Student Senate President Grifone by surprise.

“I was not going to ask for a motion to be put on the table,” Grifone said, “but I am assuming because of the recent world events that it has really changed the minds of a lot of people. People think this is something that needs to be moved forward quicker. So why I was surprised, thinking about it again, I really shouldn’t have been. It was definitely interesting to see the unanimous vote to a campus police force.”

The resolution was mentioned to Marvin Gruber, Assistant Director of Security, at a scheduled question and answer session at the Resident Halls Commons later that night.

“I think that’s something we continue to look at, and continue to gather information on that. Certainly if you look at the colleges in the area—and I’m talking about the 4 year and 2 year colleges in our area—most of them, with the exception of LCCC [Lehigh Carbon Community College] in Schnecksville, has an armed police force.”

Grifone also spoke about the origins of the Senate’s goal, and the expeditious nature of the vote.
“I was definitely surprised,” he said. “When we first came up with the idea for a Campus Security Committee, we wanted to make it very clear that our initial goal was not to have a campus police force. Not that it couldn’t happen, but that was not our initial goal. So when it came up at the meeting, I thought they were just going to explain their update, but then a motion was made and I didn’t know if the Senate had enough time to think about it.”

***

On Oct 13 during Fall Break the combined Monroe & Bethlehem Student Senates participated in a day-long planning retreat at Bethlehem Campus. It was here that the Security Enhancement Committee was formed. Feliciano says DePaula, Clark, and himself volunteered for the positions. Clark was the first to volunteer to Chair to be committee, and Feliciano, a close ally, made two of the three positions open.  DePaula volunteered with several others, but to Feliciano’s mind, the others wouldn’t fit right on the committee.

“I raised my hand and a couple other people raised their hands, but they were people who were…very closely linked to us,” Feliciano said. “I knew the President [Grifone], that’s not what he wanted to do—was to have the same people who were closely linked to each other—and Pedro [DePaula] raising his hand also, having that one person who was not in the residence hall.”

Clark and Feliciano reside in the Bethlehem Main Campus residence halls. DePaula, as Clark pointed out, supplied a “commuter” student perspective, as he lives off-campus.

On a list of Bethlehem Student Senate goals prioritized at the retreat, the second goal according to Pologruto was to “Enhance Campus Safety including transition to an armed police force.”

“I guess the idea of it was, ‘what can we do to make students feel safe on campus?’” Grifone said of security discussion during the retreat. “That was really the only thing. A very broad term. We hadn’t done any research on it yet. So really it was the committee who made this a big focus for getting the campus police force up. And I know there are other ways to enhance campus security.”

A major component backing the decision to begin conversion was supplied by a security audit of Northampton Community College in May of 2013. The audit was conducted by Robert Gerken, Director of Campus Safety/Chief of Police Muhlenberg College and Stewart Bedics, Assistant Chief of Police Lehigh University.

The security audit was a 12 page report which covered numerous aspects of college campus safety, including communications, patrol fleets, cameras, emergency crisis response, and personnel policies.

In the final two pages of the audit, under “Overall Recommendations,” states:

“Throughout these interviews, it became evident that Marvin Gruber has far too many responsibilities.  As a result, he is prevented in doing many things that he has identified as important issues as they pertain to safety and security… He, too, has identified as many have, that Officers within the Department need to have extensive, ongoing training. He has attempted to do this in the past, but his involvement in two departments has not allowed him to do so.”

The report also stated, “In light of incidents that have and continue to occur on campuses of colleges and universities around the Country, some means of arming the Officers should be considered.  If consideration is being given for Officers to have arrest powers, there should be a conversation that occurs with the Northampton and Monroe County District Attorneys.”

“Our security department is certified with the State under Act 235 – Lethal Weapons, Gruber said on Nov 17th. “They carry hand cuffs, expandable batons, pepper spray. They have basic First Aid training, some have EMT training, some are First responders. So they have a little more advanced medical training.”

Act 235 – Lethal Weapons Training is necessary for any privately employed person who carries a lethal weapon. This may include security guards, armored truck guards, alarm response guards, night watchmen and private investigators.

The Act, law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and overseen by the State Police, states a person is capable of wielding a lethal weapon after psychological and physical evaluations, background checks, and numerous other stipulations.

Although it states a person is capable of using lethal firearms, it does not permit a security officer to carry a firearm. An Act 235 certification alone does not permit an employee to make arrests, only to detain a person until police arrive.

The Safety Enhancement Committee is looking to upgrade security to Act 120, which would convert them to police officers and allow them to carry firearms and make arrests. An additional annual upkeep is required under Act 180 to maintain this status, which entails changes in law, additional training and education, and making sure the officer is still suitable for officer duties.

Some of NCC’s security staff would not be capable of transferring to Act 120 due to basic physical-related restraints affected by the onset of age, such as hearing or sight. The tentative plan would be to have a security and police hybrid force on campus to accommodate these guards rather than forfeit their jobs to new police employees. This model can be found in several other colleges in the area.

Another major concern in the report is the rapidly growing student population of NCC. The Safety Enhancement Committee feels the sparse amount of security on duty now is not enough to adequately protect the entirety of the student body.

That force is “a little over 20 officers,” Gruber said. “Its divided down the middle: Half are full-time, half are part-time. We also have our campus in Tannersville [Monroe campus], and we have a site down in Southside Bethlehem [Fowler Center].”

On Nov 17th Senators Clark, Feliciano, and DePaula gave their presentation on security to the Student Senate. Their presentation touched on the Green Pond Road crossing and a fight which occurred during the NCC versus Lazerne CC men’s basketball game. They used the disturbance to segue into transferring to uniformed police officers, citing that Bethlehem Township Police officers will be hired to be present during future basketball games, Feliciano wondering aloud why that made sense over NCC paying for their own force.

Clark mentioned different college shootings this year including one in Oregon and an unnamed community college in Pennsylvania, presumably Edinburg University in late March. This flowed into a sudden motion for a resolution and the unanimous vote to convert campus security to a uniformed police force. The time from the beginning of the presentation to the vote was approximately 13 minutes.

“Ladies and gentleman, you have just made a huge, huge decision,” Pologruto told the Student Senate moments after the vote. “Your town hall meeting has now gone from ten people to three hundred.”

On the 24th of November The Safety Enhancement Committee presented to The College Safety Advisory Committee, Co- Chaired by Doctor Susan Salvador, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Affairs and Gruber.

The College Safety Advisory Committee is a standing committee of faculty and students that reviews campus safety issues. They meet twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.

All of the members of The Student Senate’s Safety Enhancement Committee are also members of the College Safety Advisory Committee, but their presentation was given as being from the former group.

“Part of my role is to be as helpful as I can, to provide information, to be able to connect Will [Clark] and his subcommittee to other resources here- to just be a good resource,” Dr. Salvador said.

They met to update the Advisory Safety Committee on college safety concerns and for the committee to ask for feedback from the college in return.

“Since the report that the Student Senate had documented that was done in 2013, it’s always important and has been a priority here to always review how things are, the operations of our security, how facilities are, just how we provide safety and security here at the college, so that’s something that is not a new topic; it’s been something that we have and continue to have discussions about, but we also put that into a broader conversation just in regards to safety and security in all different ways,” Salvador said.

She continued, “But in the issue here with arming our security it’s something that we want to be working closely with our students because that’s important to explore and have good conversations. It’s not something that you don’t want to have conversations about, but it also is a large decision for the institution, and it involves everyone to have a voice. So that’s students, that’s faculty, and that’s staff, the administration, and the Board of Trustees.”

The Safety Committee has been on something of a tour, speaking with various student clubs, organizations, faculty, staff, and committees.

After a presentation to NCC’s Residence Hall Council on Nov 22nd, they “almost unanimously approved a resolution in support of a campus police force,” Clark said. He also stated “they reserve the right to withdraw their recommendation at any point in time.”

Clark also provided an e-mail from the College Life Committee, who they presented to on Dec 1st, written by Prof. Jeffrey A. Armstrong. The email read, in part:

“The general consensus of the group was that we will need a lot more information (including any opposing data and informed opinions) before we would be able to support an armed police force.  Once we feel we have a more balanced and comprehensive understanding of what it would mean to have an armed police force on campus, we would certainly welcome you back to the committee again to garner our support.”

The College Life Committee’s motion on the matter read, “College Life supports the continuing process of information-gathering regarding the topic of establishing an armed police force on campus.”

And on Dec 2nd the Safety Enhancement Committee presented to Monroe Campus’s Student Senate via teleconference, which Clark reported ended with Monroe deciding they “would give us an official response by today in order to carefully consider what we presented to them.”

At press time we were unable to ascertain their response.

Clark said, “The Committee met with Dr. Salvador and Dr. Gloria Lopez” on Dec 4th, and that the committee’s presentation continued to evolve as more information was gathered, adding they’ll be “creating a new Action Plan for the Spring 2016 semester.”

The conversation about a uniformed police force will continue on Dec 8th during a Town Hall meeting at NCC Main campus, where Student Senate will be speaking to anyone able to attend, answering questions and gauging popular sentiment regarding a possible transition.

The biggest step in the decision making process will come in early February when Grifone, on behalf of Student Senate, presents the information gathered on a prospective transition to NCC’s Board of Trustees. That, along with student, faculty, and administration’s feelings on the matter, will likely be the deciding factor.

Hannah Young, Derreck Ortiz, Andrew Remaly, Kevin Kiernan, and John Philapavage contributed to this story