After Abduction, School 'Open' to Arming Guards
After a 21-year-old man was abducted from a dormitory at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Farmingdale last week, the school's administrators are exploring the idea of arming its security guards, although, according to a spokesperson for the school, a decision on the matter will likely not be rendered until the spring.
The school began discussing the idea well before last Wednesday's violent incident, in which the victim, Joshua Powers of Farmingdale, was kidnapped from his girlfriend's dormitory room and taken to an isolated factory area in East Farmingdale, where he was allegedly beaten by three assailants. Powers, who is not a student at SUNY Farmingdale, allegedly owed his assailants money for drugs. Suffolk County Police arrested three suspects after Powers convinced the assailants to come back to the dorm room to get the money. When they returned to the room, the police, who had been called by Powers' girlfriend, Colleen Levy, were there and arrested the suspects.
After the incident, administrators of the school discussed the possibility of arming its campus police, but have not made a decision yet, according to Kathryn S. Coley, director of communications for SUNY Farmingdale. However, it had been a topic of ongoing discussion for some time before the incident.
The president of SUNY Farmingdale, Dr. Frank A. Cipriani, had assembled a committee last November to make recommendations about campus security, according to Coley. One of the recommendations made by the SUNY Farmingdale committee, which was called the President's Campus Police Committee and was made up of faculty, staff administrators, campus police officers and students, was for the school to consider arming the campus police. Other recommendations included improving communication between campus police and students, so that the campus police could help the students become more informed about safety issues.
As an outgrowth of the committee, a task force is now being formed to implement those recommendations. It is being chaired by a member of the administrative staff, who will work closely with school deans, the director of campus police, and Coley, the director of communications, who will be involved in facilitating communication between police and students. In addition to implementing the recommendations, the task force will assess reaction to those recommendations and report back to the school's president, Cipriani.
During the spring, Coley said, the task force will likely survey the campus to see if the strategies that will be implemented had an effect. The campus will also be surveyed about whether they want the campus police to be armed. The decision about whether or not to arm the campus police will come from Cipriani, Coley said.
SUNY Farmingdale's President's Campus Police Committee was formed to study campus security after the president learned that a bill was being drafted in the New York State Senate that would give SUNY the power to appoint "peace officers" on all of its campuses. The peace officers would have powers similar to that of police officers, such as the power to make arrests and to execute search warrants. The bill, introduced by Senator Stephen Saland, is pending in the legislature.
Coley noted that as long as she has been on campus, which has been a period of 18 years, whether or not to arm the campus police has been a point of discussion. She added, "So far, the president has chosen not to arm the campus police."
Coley noted that last Wednesday's incident was isolated, and that SUNY Farmingdale is a relatively safe college campus. "Frankly, it is a safe campus," she said, adding that she does not remember an incident as violent as this one occurring on the campus since she has been there. She added that violent crimes are unusual for the campus.
The school plans to gather information from SUNY campuses that have armed their campus police to see how the change affected the mood and atmosphere of the learning institution. Noting that SUNY Farmingdale is "keeping an open mind" about the possibility of arming its own campus police, Coley said, "We want families to be confident that their loved ones are safe, and fortunately, they are."
The President's Campus Police Committee issued a report in April of 1997 about the rates of violent crimes on the SUNY Farmingdale campus. After studying U.S. Department of Justice Crime reports about crime in the United States during the 1990s, the school committee concluded that its violent crime rates are at or below the level of similarly sized SUNY schools, such as SUNY Old Westbury.
The committee also contacted several SUNY campuses to find out how many have armed their campus police. Out of the 28 campuses that responded, SUNY Farmingdale found that 14 have armed campus police or are in the process of arming them and 11 have campus police that are not armed. Three of those 11 considered arming their campus police and decided against it. Three of the 28 campuses reported that they are discussing the matter.