|North Adams Residents Weigh In On Arming MCLA Police|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:25AM / Thursday, June 23, 2011
|MCLA Vice President James Stakenas said there is no imminent threat to the college, but the school wants to be prepared.|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts officials took input from the neighborhood Wednesday on arming the college's public safety officers as they work toward a final proposal in the fall.
Director of Public Safety Joseph Charon outlined for residents four major reasons that the campus police should be armed.
"I don't feel safer around guns," Highland Avenue resident Diane Parsons said. "I worry that violence would escalate with guns."
Parsons was one of about a half dozen residents who made it to the campus for the meeting to prod the college's Public Safety Director Joseph Charon. The college previously gave Charon the summer to research arming the campus police and return with a full proposal. In May, Charon met with students, and Wednesday he met with residents to seek out concerns to answer in his proposal.
Charon outlined, as his did at the meeting with students, four bullet points for arming the police that include an expanding campus, a "duty to act," the "use of force" model and an increasingly violent society.
The increasingly violent society is something Church Street resident Lisa Roberts has seen. Roberts was out walking her dog in the neighborhood on Dec. 14, 2010, when an armed robbery occurred in one of the campus' townhouse apartments.
"I don't want to be afraid," Roberts said. "The neighbors we live near are becoming more violent."
While the campus may be overall a safe place, there is nothing keeping the criminals from coming onto the campus. The city's Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said an armed campus police can "only help" the local police force.
"It's not the students, it's the people who come from outside that come to the campus," Morocco said. "My input would be – certainly. We're all in favor of it."
Morocco said the campus police being armed would help protect both themselves and the local officers who would be called to assist.
With the college's growth further into the city, the campus police are much more likely to encounter dangerous situations, Charon said.
Charon said officers are sworn to act if they see a crime taking place — even if it is outside of their jurisdiction. While the officers may not be able to make an arrest off campus, they are still required to intervene until the city police arrive on the scene, he said, and currently the officers are missing a "tool" to properly respond.
"We have an increased expectation of services. Even when we are traveling to these outskirts, our duty to act remains," Charon said. "We don't have the choice of standing by when a crime is happening in front of us."
However, Charon emphasized that the campus police will not be patrolling the city blocks.
Residents asked about comparisons to other schools and the possibilitiy of equipping only some of the officers, and questioned the need for the officers to carry the weapons all of the time.
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said the city supports the proposal because it can "only help" the local police force.
Charon responded by saying that state colleges have sworn officers who have the same duty, and therefore all must have the same qualifications; he said MCLA will research more comparisons to other schools. Currently, five of the nine state colleges have armed police forces, he said.
When asked for a timeline, Charon said there is not a strict point when the officers would be armed and there are still a lot of steps ahead. If given approval from college officials, the department would still need to rewrite its use of force policy, test and screen the officers, purchase the weapons, provide training and submit go to a formal review before implementation.
"It's a complicated process," MCLA Vice President James Stakenas said. "There is no precipitating event that brings us here. There is no imminent threat to the college...this isn't about what's here but what could come here."
At the last meeting it was estimated that arming the officers would cost an estimated $17,000. The school currently has eight officers but Charon said one or two additional officers may be hired soon.