More colleges and universities are arming on-campus guards and police officers, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey released this week.
The voluntary survey included more than 900 four-year colleges with 2,500 or more students during the 2011-12 school year, 75 percent of which reported using armed officers. During the last survey in 2005, 68 percent of schools reported employing armed officers.
The vast majority of the officers were sworn police officers, according to the report. But an increasing percentage of schools also reported arming campus security guards.
In 2005, 2 percent of campuses reported using armed security guards. In 2012, that number jumped to 11 percent.
The trend mirrors the findings of a recent investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting with CNN, Hired Guns, which found that many states are issuing armed guard licenses at unprecedented rates.
Bureau of Justice Statistics researcher Brian Reaves, author of the college report, said campuses increasingly are debating whether to use armed law enforcement officers or stick with security guards.
“Sworn officers are going to have, obviously, increased arrest authority. They come in with more training,” Reaves said. “And some campuses have decided they’d like to have a sworn armed presence to deter wrongdoers. Other campuses have decided to not go down that road at this time.”
At Oregon’s Portland State University, where officials recently voted to create a campus police force, students protested against arming the officers. According to news reports, students orchestrated a die-in and urged board members to consider nonviolent methods to improve public safety. In September, the University of Rhode Island began arms training for campus police officers following reports of a gunman on campus. The reports turned out to be false, but officials said the panic unearthed concerns about whether unarmed officers could adequately respond to an armed threat.
Alongside the increase in armed officers identified by the study, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found campus police officers were much more likely to be armed with less-than-lethal weapons than were campus security guards.
Ninety-four percent of schools reported arming their campus police officers with pepper spray in addition to firearms, and 93 percent reported the officers carried batons. Forty percent of schools also said the police officers carried conducted energy devices (also known as stun guns) such as Tasers
Security guards, on the other hand, were less likely than police to carry alternative weapons. While 11 percent of schools reported employing guards with guns, 4 percent reported equipping guards with stun guns, 48 percent with pepper spray and 32 percent with batons.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick.