Villanova Moves Forward With Decision to Arm Public Safety Force
In an email sent Monday, Villanova University Public Safety Director and Chief of Police David Tedjeske updated students, faculty, and staff with the news that the university’s newly minted police department now has three sworn officers, and counting. According to a report by VUHoops, these officers have completed a 22-week police academy training, have access to law enforcement databases, can directly communicate with law enforcement by radio, and have the power to stop, question, and detain individuals. In addition to a firearm, officers will carry batons, handcuffs, bulletproof vests, pepper spray and body cameras. Officers will continue to be phased in, with a projected total of 19 to be hired over the course of the year.
In October of 2015, the decision to arm 20 percent of the campus public safety was publicized in an email sent by University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D., and was met almost immediately with protest. Students and faculty organized marches and open forums, videos were produced, and various organizations took to social media with the hashtag #OurPublicSafety to encourage a reversal of the decision. In November, Donohue publicly engaged with the community’s concerns at a town hall style meeting, but ultimately announced that the decision would not be overturned.
In his October email, Donohue said several factors influenced his decision, including a rise in campus violence; “We are extremely fortunate that Villanova has been a safe place, but we would be remiss not to consider what has been happening on college campuses across the country.” Donohue also referenced the threat against Philadelphia area schools posted online in October, which prompted an FBI warning that kept many students across the city out of class for the day; “Many in our community expressed to me how shaken they were two weeks ago with the threat to Philadelphia-area colleges and universities,” he wrote then. “My greatest fear is the loss of a member of our community, particularly as a result of violence on our campus.”
Public Safety departments at other Philadelphia schools vary in size, but each has a police presence.La Salle’s public safety is unarmed, but a single police officer is contracted from a local district to be on campus nearly 24 hours a day (hours vary in the summer when classes are not in session). Drexel has 36 sworn police officers, according to Public Safety Vice President Eileen Behr. With 117 sworn officers UPenn boasts the largest private police force in the state. Temple has the largest university police force in the country, with 130 sworn officers and a contract with AlliedBarton Security Services that provides 250 full-time unarmed officers who act as eyes and ears on the campus and communicate with sworn officers via radio.
According to Tedjeske’s email, sworn officers will be distinguishable from their unarmed counterparts by their uniform, shoulder patch, badge, and vehicle. The department has also been certified as a criminal justice agency by the PA State Attorney General.
“As we move forward, I know that many of you may have further questions regarding the transition,” Tedjeske wrote, pledging to continue providing monthly updates. “I am grateful for the amount of feedback I have received and conversation that has occurred on campus around the transition. This is one of the benefits of a strong community like Villanova’s, and I look forward to our continued work together on these changes to public safety.”
Response to the announcement has been minimal. A post on The Villanovan’s Facebook page garnered two comments. “Does this mean you actually have to pay parking tickets now, since they now are connected to DMV and can go on your permanent record?” one person mused.
“Gotta keep those wild campus parties under control,” said another.