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Clark College explores idea of hiring campus police officers

Recent school shootings in region prompt discussion

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: December 31, 2014, 4:00pm
3 Photos
Eight full-time and several part-time security guards patrol Clark College. Recent school shootings have prompted the college to discuss the possibility of having armed police patrol the campus.
Eight full-time and several part-time security guards patrol Clark College. Recent school shootings have prompted the college to discuss the possibility of having armed police patrol the campus. Photo Gallery

When school shootings in the Pacific Northwest dominated the headlines last spring, alarms were going off for those who work at Clark College.

In June, one person died and two others were injured at a shooting at Seattle Pacific University. Just a few days later, tragedy struck a little closer to home when a teenager armed with a gun opened fire at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., killing a 14-year-old boy and wounding a teacher.

“I don’t want to just completely ignore it,” Clark College President Bob Knight said. “The likelihood of a school shooting is remote, but maybe it’s our turn and I don’t want to have not done anything.”

The college’s board of trustees asked Knight to look into the possibility of having police on campus and Knight started the conversation.

Clark College can’t follow the trend of universities forming their own police force, such as Washington State University Vancouver, because it isn’t allowed to under Washington state law.

But in early November, Knight brought the idea of hiring a Vancouver police officer or two to patrol the campus to the College Council, a 20-member group that advises the president on key policy decisions. The group includes representatives from faculty, classified staff, administration, exempt staff and students.

After the meeting, representatives spoke with their constituents and reported back to Knight.

The results of the unscientific straw poll, as Knight called it, showed that faculty and staff were mostly opposed to the idea while students were more in favor.

“It didn’t surprise me,” said Bob Williamson, vice president of administrative services, which includes security. “Most of our students are accustomed to going to high schools, where they see an armed security officer every day, so for them it’s not unusual. “

The college is currently staffed by eight full-time security guards and numerous part-time guards. They all carry pepper spray and handcuffs, but do not have a gun, baton or Taser. The college has at least two guards patrolling campus 24 hours a day, with three guards working during the daytime hours.

The guards are tasked with patrolling campus, responding to incidents such as altercations, car prowls and thefts. The security guards also have training in first aid and CPR.

They cannot, however, make arrests apart from a citizen’s arrest. They have the authority only to detain someone if they believe that person poses an imminent threat to themselves, others or property, Williamson said.

“And, if the individual was armed, it would not be safe for our officers to try to detain,” he said. “In these instances, the college would still need to rely on local law enforcement to respond.”

Williamson said he has no opinion on whether the college should have an armed police officer, but added that if the college were to make the change, he’d want to manage expectations.

“We can have as many as 3,000 people on-site at the busiest time of day,” Williamson said. “One law enforcement officer on a 100-acre campus … it would be difficult for one officer to prevent and respond to every incident. That’s a lot for one person to have to cover.”

It would cost the college more than $100,000 to have one Vancouver officer patrol full-time and another patrol part-time on campus from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the days students are there, Knight said.

“Right now we don’t have the funds to cover it,” he said. “It’d have to compete with other priorities of the college.”

But the conversation has not ended.

Knight is continuing to consider the option of paying for the armed patrol but is also looking into the possibility of setting up a desk for a Vancouver police officer — that way the officer could write reports while also having a presence on campus.

Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said that officers have report-writing stations at area hospitals and at a west-side business.

“We want people to feel safe and secure, more open and more productive,” Knight said.

Knight said he plans to bring the information back to the board of trustees at the January meeting to see if they have any guidance in the matter.

The police presence alone would deter crime, he said, but it wouldn’t necessarily stop a shooting — the scary possibility that triggered the entire conversation.

“You can never prevent these things,” Knight said. “You can try to be as much of a deterrent, but you can never stop those absolutely.”