Iowa Board of Regents decide campus police can now carry guns

Jason Mann

Jason Mann

The shootings at Virginia Tech last spring have inspired many universities to begin changing their policies and finding new ways to keep students safe while at college.

On Oct. 31, the Iowa Board of Regents voted 6-2 to require campus police to carry firearms, after they meet rigorous firearms training standards. The board looked at crime statistics on the three public campuses and after much discussion came to the conclusion that it was the right decision.

Arming officers is only part of a comprehensive security policy. In addition to arming police, the policy includes an emergency communication system that will be implemented at the three universities, which would include a text messaging system and an outdoor warning system.

Only sworn and certified officers who receive the same certification and training as all other law enforcement officers in the state of Iowa will be allowed to carry guns. Background checks, psychological evaluations and completion of 520 hours of basic training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy will be included in the certification.

“As I have stated repeatedly, public safety is my top priority,” Iowa Governor Chet Culver said in a statement after the vote. “I commend the regent presidents, public safety directors and the Board of Regents for taking this important step to increase the safety and security of our campuses.”

The two board members who voted against arming the officers, Board President Michael Gartner and Rose Vasquez, thought that most of the crime on the campuses was drug and alcohol related and so armed police would not prevent those crimes.

Until this year, Iowa was one of the few states prohibiting public university police from carrying weapons. Certified police officers on the campuses of public universities were prohibited from carrying firearms unless they were granted special permission from the university president. The University of Iowa was the only school in the Big Ten with campus officers who did not carry firearms; Iowa State University was the only institution in the Big 12 that did not arm its patrol members with firearms; and the University of Northern Iowa was the lone school in the Missouri Valley whose officers did not carry guns.

According to SDSU Vice President Michael Reger and Lt. Michael Kilber of the University Police Department, SDSU police officers have carried weapons for decades.

“UPD officers carry a Glock 40 pistol, which is the standard law enforcement weapon in this region,” Reger said. “Our new officers are required to go through the same initial training that new city, county and highway patrol officers do at the South Dakota Law Enforcement Academy in Pierre. Ongoing training and certification standards are the same as well.”

According to Kilber, this gives the SDSU police officers congruity during a multi-agency emergency response.

“Training and qualification requirements at the SDSU Police Department exceed those of most law enforcement agencies in South Dakota,” Kilber said. “The certified police officers of the SDSU Police Department receive 40 hours of initial basic firearms training, then an additional 40 hours of advanced training at the Law Enforcement Training Academy. Each officer is then required to complete and qualify at an annual advanced firearms refresher, a winter or cold weather firearms refresher and a nighttime firearms training.”

The SDSU police department also has three certified firearms instructors, three officers on the Brookings area SWAT team and three officers who also serve with the South Dakota National Guard, all of whom receive even more advanced firearms training and certifications, Kilber said.

As for changes after the Virginia Tech shooting, SDSU is in the process of making some as well. According to Reger, the S.D. Board of Regents has directed all the universities to develop emergency notification systems for situations like Virginia Tech. “A committee is reviewing a variety of systems that would provide the best overall coverage,” he said, “using multiple means to communicate with students, faculty, staff and community members.”

SDSU has also established a threat assessment team in Student Affairs to identify potential issues involving threatening behavior and other concerns.

“We have a long history of certified officers on campus and very professional performance,” Reger said.

#1.883072:3974220197.jpg:UI-Police-1.jpg:A university police officer stops and asks Kim Alensdorf, middle, and Julie Watts, left, for identification, at the University of Iowa.:Ben Roberts/The Daily Iowan