(Posted May 5, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- At its April 19, 2008 meeting, the Juniata College Board of Trustees voted to begin the process of arming its Safety and Security Services Department.

"In the wake of the student tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, all colleges have started re-examining their security measures and we believe arming our officers is one of a number of important steps we are implementing to be sure our campus is safe," says Thomas R. Kepple, Juniata president.

The vote by the trustees allows the college to begin the department's transition to arm its officers. President Kepple explains that the college has already appointed an executive group to map out a transition strategy

To qualify as an armed officer, each safety and security office must complete the state PA Act 235 training program, known as Lethal Weapons certification, which is mandatory for all privately employed persons who carry any type of lethal weapon in the performance of their work. The training is offered at locations throughout the state, including police academies, colleges and universities and private academies.

Juniata reached the decision to arm its safety and security force after a thorough evaluation of options. In April 2007, Kepple appointed a Review Group task force to evaluate Juniata's current security measures and make recommendations on changes to campus security measures. The group made a series of recommendations to improve security in August 2007. In addition, the college hired a security consultant to evaluate its overall security policies.

The first change to be implemented was installing a secure locking system for all of Juniata's residence halls on the campus. The systems were installed during spring semester starting in January. Other changes to come include the installation of a warning siren (with a unique sound signature) in a central area of campus and emergency drills at least once a year.

Juniata also has an extensive program of student services designed to identify potential problems. The college also has a "notice of concern" program that allows students, faculty or staff to identify students exhibiting signs of stress or other problematic behavior. The notice of concern goes by e-mail directly to the Dean of Students office and the dean then personally contacts the student to offer solutions and/or counseling services available at the college's Health and Wellness Center.

After the task force recommended arming the security force, Kepple and other administrators brought the arming issue forward before several public campus forums, student government, faculty meetings and finally the trustees.

"Some on campus were concerned that arming campus police will inevitably alter the nature of the relationship between students, faculty, staff and the armed officers," says Kris Clarkson dean of students and the head of the Review Group task force. "Currently there is a genuine spirit of cooperation and a positive attitude between the campus community and our officers. And we are confident that our security personnel will work hard to maintain that same spirit of cooperation."

Although more recent surveys have not been completed, a 1995 federal government survey found that 81 percent of police departments at public institutions armed their officers and 34 percent of private college police departments were armed. The survey covered 581 colleges and universities with enrollments of more than 2,500. Juniata's enrollment is approximately 1,450. In the aftermath of Virginia Tech, many more institutions have made the decision to arm officers.

Juniata was granted authority as a private police department by Judge Stewart Kurtz, Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County in 2004 under Pennsylvania Act 501. The recognition as a private police force allows the college's police officers to exercise full police powers within their jurisdictional areas (which includes off-site areas such as the Baxter Building, the Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the Peace Chapel Nature preserve).

The designation as a police department allows Juniata's safety and security force to apply for various state and federal grants. In addition, the designation also allows college officers working for the college to participate in professional development training such as terrorism measures, municipal policing, criminal investigation and other training. Classification as a police department also allows the college's officers to access various databases containing sensitive information for law enforcement agencies. Such databases are available to all police departments to streamline investigations and information gathering.

The Juniata safety and security department will continue to work closely with Huntingdon Borough Police to enforce laws and regulations on campus and adjacent properties.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.