The new president of Finger Lakes Community College came from an urban campus where guards carried guns.
Finger Lakes Community College is considering converting its entire security force to full-fledged campus police — a move that would give all campus security staff the authority to make arrests. Whether the peace officers, as the campus police are called, would carry a weapon is still up in the air.
“It’s an important discussion for us to have,” said FLCC President Barbara Risser.
Onondaga Community College, where Risser was vice president of student and academic services before becoming FLCC president in August, is one of three community colleges in the State University of New York system that has armed peace officers, said Ray Montcrieff, director of campus safety.
FLCC has never had armed security officers.
Risser said OCC made its decision following the Virginia Tech tragedy last spring. The April 16 shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., left 32 dead and many wounded.
Risser said while it was the right decision to arm peace officers on the Onondaga campus, “it isn’t necessarily right for” FLCC.
Onondaga, located in Syracuse, has about 10,000 students, roughly twice that of FLCC.
Risser earlier this month announced a goal of doubling FLCC’s enrollment in the next 10 years, to 11,000. While that number would include students in online programs and at satellite centers and not typically on campus, FLCC’s long-term expansion plan includes added academic space, a student center, and possibly an auditorium and additional student housing on the Hopewell campus.
“As we build enrollment, we will have to look at all our services,” said Risser.
Last week, Ontario County’s Personnel Committee gave the OK for FLCC to train two campus security guards to become peace officers. That would raise the number of peace officers from three to five, in addition to four existing security guards.
Unlike security guards, who have limited authority, the peace officers can perform criminal investigations and make arrests.
Peace officers “have full police powers,” said Montcrieff, who is a peace officer.
Montcrieff said last week campus peace officers haven’t made any arrests in the last year, though they did find ammunition — a .22-caliber bullet — on a campus sidewalk. In another incident, that happened just off-campus, county sheriff’s deputies made an arrest pertaining to a collapsible baton weapon.
“We are dealing with changes in our society,” said Montcrieff, who has been the college’s director of campus safety for 14 years.
“We have road rage in our parking lot, too,” he added.
More than ever before, for example, it’s not uncommon to have people on campus “with a kid in one hand and an order of protection in the other,” he said.
Grace Loomis, head of FLCC human resources, said the college has the $31,000 needed to train two peace officers in its budget. Covered by that sum, peace officers would fill two full-time positions while the newly appointed peace officers undergo a six-month training.
The college Board of Trustees will vote on the plan at its meeting Dec. 10.
On April 17, SUNY Chancellor John R. Ryan directed all college presidents to form ad hoc committees to assist SUNY with a comprehensive review of safety and security systems and operations in light of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Former FLCC President Dan Hayes directed the College Council to form the committee, with Montcrieff as a co-chairman. The committee recommended that all FLCC security officers be made peace officers and that the number be increased.
Under a three-year plan still under discussion, all campus uniformed guards would be peace officers, bringing the number to 11.
Robert Griswold, chairman of the college’s Board of Trustees, said Monday that “situations like Virginia Tech bring everyone’s attention” to security issues. While it’s a good idea to make security improvements, he said, the matter of whether to arm the peace officers is a tough question and requires research and discussion.
Montcrieff said campus security works closely with local police, such as the county sheriff’s office, and with security personnel at the new campus-housing facility. The student-housing complex, College Suites, is privately owned and operated by United Group of Cos., and has its own, unarmed security force. John Ball, United’s executive vice president, said the complex is staffed round-the-clock with two live-in adult managers, four daytime staff and three night security guards — in addition to nine students who are resident assistants for the facility that houses 354 students. Housing is also guarded with video surveillance and electronic locking devices, he said.
Julie Sherwood can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at email@example.com.