College Abandons Proposal to Arm DPS, Prepares Plans to Contract with Armed External Security

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief

In a change of plans, the college has abandoned a proposal that would have armed Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers in specific situations and instead will use an external contractor in cases requiring additional security personnel.

According to a revised plan relayed by a college spokesperson to The Gettysburgian, “The College has been able to make arrangements such that, in the very rare instance where the protection of the campus requires heightened security, appropriate professional resources from the Gettysburg Police Department and external security contractors will be available.”

The revision marks a reversal from a proposal circulated last spring to constituencies including Student Senate, Faculty Council, and the Board of Trustees.

Under the previous proposal, Vice President of College Life and Dean of Students Julie Ramsey and Executive Director of Public Safety Bill Lafferty proposed arming trained DPS officers in situations such as large-scale public events, when activities near campus could pose a threat, or during an active shooter situation. That idea arose as part of the pair’s annual review of campus security procedures. Then-President Janet Morgan Riggs was initially expected to make a decision before her retirement in June, but she ultimately decided to leave the call to her successor, Bob Iuliano.

Since March, when the decision-making delay was announced, Lafferty developed the revised plan under which the college would first seek direct support from local law enforcement agencies and, if such support was not available, hire external security contractors. 

Using Gettysburg Borough Police would be “preferred,” Ramsey said in an interview Wednesday, though G-Force Investigations, LLC would be the primary contractor used if law enforcement support was not available. The college has used G-Force for “a number of years,” she said, at weekend social events, particularly at fraternity parties. She added that the college is happy with the service G-Force has provided and that she is not aware of any complaints about the use of force during its relationship with the college.

College spokesperson Jamie Yates reiterated the college’s previous commitment to inform the campus when armed officers will be on campus.

“If those resources were to include the involvement of armed officers, we previously have agreed, when practical, to inform the community,” she said. “We stand by that commitment.”

The Previous Proposal

Throughout the spring semester, Ramsey and Lafferty met with various campus groups to present their proposal that called for the “situational arming” of DPS officers trained under Pennsylvania’s Act 235, which allows certified private security officers to be armed while discharging their duties. At the time, Lafferty said that 12 officers were certified and that, should the proposal be adopted, he would ensure that officers received ongoing training — including frequent time at a shooting range — beyond the state requirements.

Nevertheless, Ramsey said that she heard and found persuasive concerns that the training would still be insufficient.

“There just wouldn’t be sufficient opportunity for them [DPS officers] to train in stressful situations,” Ramsey said, noting that local law enforcement are best equipped to deal with those kinds of stressful situations.

In her mind, the original proposal aimed to address three possible scenarios:

  1. An active shooter situation
  2. A potentially dangerous event near campus that could spill over (e.g., a KKK rally)
  3. Large, open-air events such as Convocation and Commencement

Ultimately, she said, neither the original proposal nor the current plan provide campus additional resources to address the first scenario.

“We would have to be really lucky,” she said, for the original plan — which would have required officers to get firearms from locked storage at DPS headquarters and then respond to an active shooter scene somewhere on campus — to have made a difference in neutralizing an active shooter.

Once it was clear that the original plan did not address the first scenario, that left two possible scenarios for which the college could plan in advance, which makes the current plan to rely on local law enforcement or an external security contractor possible, she argued.

Campus Response to Arming DPS

Reaction to the possibility of having armed DPS officers varied. Ramsey described two situations of which people were afraid that ostensibly suggest opposite policy responses: an active shooter situation and the use of excessive force by law enforcement or security personnel.

Conversations with Faculty Council revealed skepticism about both the extent to which the situational arming plan could be a slippery slope and to which it could be effective to neutralize active threats. Associate Professor of Music Jocelyn Swigger, Chair of Faculty Council, quoted the meeting minutes, which state, “Many questions arose about the possibility of accidents, theft, the training of DPS officers, active-threat situations, and the culture of firearms.”

Ramsey conceded that “nobody was particularly persuaded that it would make that much difference [in stopping an active threat],” which meant that the second concern — about the potential use of excessive force — which was particularly acute among people of color, weighed heavily.

The Gettysburg College Student Senate, however, adopted an opinion in support of the proposal. Ramsey said that other student groups expressed reservations.

Students and DPS officers alike, she said, want DPS to be “very approachable,” and even the possibility that they could be armed could undermine the department’s goal of community service oriented patrolling (CSOP).

“Guns get in the way of that,” she said.

The Board of Trustees also had concerns about the college’s liability in the event something were to go wrong with an armed officer, Ramsey said.

Of the new plan, Nick Arbaugh ’20, who was President of Student Senate when it passed the opinion supporting the original proposal that called for the situational arming of DPS officers and strongly supported that concept, said he is fine with the new approach as well.

“As long as students are being kept safe, I’m happy,” he said.

Emily Dalgleish ’22, co-founder of Gettysburg’s new chapter of Students Demand Action, an anti-gun violence activist group, expressed reservations about the college’s plan.

“It is unfortunate that gun violence is so nationally prominent that we need to consider arming private security to protect our campus,” she said in an email. “The school administration must be incredibly diligent in affirming that every security officer that would have access to guns is properly trained and has had a thorough background check. The administration must ensure that this policy will protect students of color rather than threaten them. Students need assurance that this will increase campus safety rather than contribute to the risk of gun accidents or violence.”

Who Would Be Armed Under New Plan?

One factor that gave rise to the college’s previous proposal to situationally arm DPS officers was concern that Gettysburg Borough Police’s staffing struggles — including an extended period during which it lacked a permanent chief — could hinder its ability to support DPS in staffing large campus events. Lafferty now feels more comfortable with the capacity of local law enforcement agencies including Gettysburg Borough Police as well as other agencies such as Cumberland Township Police and the Pennsylvania State Police to provide additional security resources to the college when needed.

Lafferty cited “the new chief and greater collaboration he has with other local law enforcement resources” as reasons for his increased confidence.

There may still be circumstances, however, that necessitate additional armed security personnel, and, in those circumstances, hiring external security contractors may be the college’s best option, the new plan concludes.

Ramsey said that, to her knowledge, G-Force is the only contractor the college is considering at this point to provide those services.

In terms of training, Lafferty said in an email, referring to G-Force: “The security company we typically employ has been hiring trained and State certified officers to work as armed school resource officers in the local schools.  These officers are or have also been law enforcement officers. We have a contract with the company that specifies requirements and training. We would also work with Gettysburg Police under a new agreement or understanding that would also allow sworn officers to provide such assistance – officers currently certified as sworn municipal police officers.”

The Path Forward

At this point, the decision to proceed in this way has been made, Ramsey said, noting that Iuliano has signed off on the plan after participating in a series of conversations contributing to its development earlier in the summer.

Ramsey insisted that neither she nor Lafferty were ever eager to have armed DPS officers on campus, but that, at the time, they thought it was the best plan.

“We felt like we had to come out with a specific proposal and say, ‘let’s see how people respond to this,'” she said. “We never really wanted to do this, but we wanted to test it.”

Based on that feedback and options available to the college now that were not in the spring, Ramsey feels that the college has arrived at the right plan. While she and Lafferty have considered annually the possibility of arming DPS since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, for now, a final call has been made.

“We feel like it’s been decided for this context of local, regional, and national circumstances, but there could be circumstances under which it would be revisited,” she said. “The world keeps changing.”

Editor’s Note: The Gettysburgian’s News Editor Phoebe Doscher ’22 is a co-founder of Students Demand Action. She was not involved in the reporting or editing of this story, which quotes her co-founder Emily Dalgleish ’22. Editorial input was exercised, instead, by Managing Editor Maddie Neiman and Print Editor Lauren Hand. (-B. Pontz)

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as editor-in-chief of The Gettysburgian. Previously, he served as a staff writer, event coverage coordinator, news editor, and managing news editor. During his tenure, he has written more than 150 articles, and he led the team that won first place in the 2017 Keystone Press Awards for ongoing news coverage of Robert Spencer's visit to Gettysburg College and co-wrote the package of editorials that won first place in the 2018 Keystone Press Awards. Ben is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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