Arming Your Department: 8 Building Blocks
Roger Mason PhD
Authors Note: The subject of arming a campus public safety or security department was discussed at the 2014 IACLEA conference. Chiefs David Tedjeske and Larry Eakins provided invaluable training for the attendees. The question of what needs to be done once the policy decision has been reached was discussed among the attendees. I mentioned that I had done a preliminary study for a college client. This paper is based on that study. It has been edited from the original format to remove proprietary client information and specific references to law enforcement agencies from that area. The original paper included checklists with items which have been edited into text as examples. References to the California Penal and Government codes have been changed to generic references. Individual departments will have to consider some of the recommendations in light of their state laws. This paper should serve as a starting point for the many discussions and levels of planning required to actually deploy weapons on your campus. I hope this is of assistance to any IACLEA members engaged in this process.
The plan to arm your campus public safety or security force is one of the most far reaching decisions your institution will ever take regarding their safety. The process is a bit like buying your first car. All the thought goes into the planning to purchase the car with little consideration about what that will mean once the sales agreement is signed. There are eight foundation building blocks which represent the follow up questions which must be answered and addressed to ensure a successful transition
The building blocks include: policy and procedures, infrastructure, equipment, tactics and training, care, planning, litigation defense and moving ahead. The building blocks are not all inclusive. Issues and challenges will arise during the initial transition and into the future. They do represent a strong foundation that will support informed decision making during the transition.
Policies and Procedures
All of the foundational blocks in this paper will be related to policies and procedures. No matter what item is discussed they will eventually need to be captured in a policy or procedure. There will be no policies or procedures for your department more important than those related to the use of firearms on campus and possibly the employment of deadly force. Policies and procedures can be divided into three categories: use of firearms, training and the accountability of the firearms.
Policies and procedures will be tied to the status of the officers who will be armed. There are two principal status categories: armed security and sworn or commissioned peace officers. Sworn departments will have to further consider their peace officer status: on duty only or 24 hour, on campus only or at large. The policies must reflect the appropriate status of your officers. This question of status will require policies and procedures regarding when the officers will be armed.
Policies will encompass four areas: use of firearms, training, accountability of the weapons and officer’s conduct, and the protection of the firearms. The potential employment of firearms will require a unique policy and procedure stream. What will the use of force policy involve? How will it change from the current non-armed policy? Where will deadly force be introduced into your force continuum?
When you arm your officers you must be prepared for the consequences of employment of deadly force from the first shift of armed officers. You will need a shooting review board and policies and procedures for investigating shootings. You will need the capability to conduct officer involved shooting investigations. You may consider contracting with your surrounding law enforcement agencies for this support. Expertise in a specialized type of investigation like shooting investigations requires time and experience. This can be provided by your surrounding agencies through a memorandum of understanding. Your investigators can begin to develop experience if they are allowed to work and train with their local counterparts in this specialized type of investigation.
The types of weapons you department will carry must be considered. This is not the brand or caliber of weapon but the overall weapons package. Will you carry shotguns in your vehicles? What type of ammunition? Could this include less lethal bean bag type munitions? Should you consider having a limited long arm capability? The purpose of this paper is to discuss arming and not to develop a full tactical team. Most police departments have some type of long arm capability deploy-able in the field at all times.
This is sometimes referred to as a patrol rifle or patrol carbine. Many department use the standard Colt M-4 style rifle. It is an effective weapon. Its military appearance can be a stumbling block to some. There are several types of patrol rifles in a variety of calibers who do not share the M-4’s military heritage. These may be a good choice should you elect to have a long rifle capability.
Your weapons program will require a support system for sustained operations. This will include periodic qualification and safety inspections of the weapons. You will need to determine if the institution will own the weapons or the individual officers. Will officers be allowed to purchase a weapon that can be used in place of their assigned institutional weapon? (Note even privately owned firearms must be periodically inspected).
Accountability for the safe operation and protection of the weapons will be a big part of your policies and procedures. How will the weapons be carried, where will they be stored? If the officers take them home what are your state laws about securing firearms in a private residence? Will you allow the use of “backup” guns? This is a commonplace law enforcement practice of carrying a small, concealable personal defense handgun for use if the officer’s primary weapon is lost. In some states waiting periods for handgun purchases can be waived if a sworn officer brings a letter from their chief of police. Will you have a policy to authorize that?
Documentation will be an important part of your policies and procedures. You will need documentation to track/account for firearms, documents and procedures if a weapon is lost or discharged accidentally. You will need a documentation procedure if deadly force is employed whether or not anyone is struck or killed by the bullets.
There have been recent cases across the county (North Dakota, California, Virginia) where public agencies were audited and firearms they were responsible for were determined to be lost or stolen. There is nothing that will undermine the community confidence in your weapons program faster than a lack of accountability for the weapons you are responsible for.
The required infrastructure for a firearms program is one of the key requirements that is often overlooked and then poorly executed as the department realizes it needs to be addressed. Infrastructure is your system for the temporary and long term protection and storage of firearms. It is not sufficient to throw them in the trunk of car or have a locked cabinet in a back office.
No matter how large or small your fire arms program you should have a designated armory. This is a hardened location protected by an alarm, sprinkler system and if possible a security camera. Access should be limited to supervisors. By hardened I mean a location that is not accessible or secured only by drywall but has walls and doors that withstand a determined assault by an intruder and will survive a fire. A good option for handguns is purchasing a large standing gun safe that can be bolted to a concrete floor.
Depending on the size the safe could also store long guns like a shot gun or patrol carbine. The safe must also be used store your ammunition supplies. Besides your handgun locker/safe, your station entrances should be hardened. Some smaller departments may not have a person on duty in your station at all times. If this is the case the building should be alarmed and have security cameras that can be accessed remotely. Your local police agency should be included on the alarm activation.
Temporary storage should also be considered. If you are moving to become a sworn police agency you will be making arrests and may have suspects in your station. Your interview area should have a hand gun locker. If you temporarily detain suspects in your station you will need a gun locker. Officers should not be allowed to store handguns in desks or cabinets in their work areas. Experienced criminals seeking to escape know that cops are lazy and a cursory search of detectives or administrators desks will invariably provide a loaded handgun.
Weapons carried in vehicles will require locking racks. If you do elect to carry a shot gun and or patrol carbine you should have a locking rack in the trunk where these weapons can be temporarily stored in the field for greater safety. You do not want your police vehicles going through a local car wash with a shot gun in the rack while it is being cleaned by an ex con who works there.
What equipment/firearms you will purchase or authorize for your department is an important decision that should be carefully considered. Just as you developed criterion and justification to arm your officers you should follow the same process to determine what weapons they will carry. There are two sources of data you should consider. The first is the National Institute of Justice and the FBI. They conduct studies of firearms and ammunition. You should consider their recommendations and testing results.
The second source is your surrounding police agency. They will already have collected similar data. You should review their recommendations. There is value in sharing the same weapons systems and ammunition as your local police agency. You will need to purchase extra weapons to allow for the loss of weapons that may need to be repaired or impounded after a shooting.
Other equipment must be considered beyond the firearms. The holster and equipment belt system must be evaluated. There are different levels of holster retention. There are government studies about this type of equipment that should be considered. Whatever holster system you approve must be capable of protecting that handgun but allow the officer to easily employ it. The traditional law enforcement system is leather. Some of the new systems are military style nylon or other synthetics. The nylon is lighter than leather but may not be as durable. If you provide a holster you must determine what other holsters can be purchased and employed by officers.
Departments have the choice of standardization or allow individual preferences for the selection of equipment. Standardization offers the greatest level of officer safety as every officer will be familiar with the holster system, the weapon retention features, and how to draw the weapon. It is also simpler when you are updating or inspecting universal system. If you opt for individual preference you will be redoing this process with each new type of holster that your officers purchase.
Tactics and Training
You will be introducing firearms into a high density environment that may allow the free access by non campus community members. Specialized environments like passenger jets, subway trains, or crowded college classrooms require specialized tactics. Your department should consider adopting high density environment shooting tactics.
There are many people that will require training. The officers that carry the weapons, other unarmed officers, and the supervisors who will manage all of them. If you are sending officers to a police academy the initial training will be taken care of. If you are training officers who will not be attending an academy you will need to establish a training program. Basic tactics must be selected, instructors hired or trained and the training deployed.
Many departments hire retired or former law enforcement officers for their department. It is critical they are trained with the tactics of your department and not rely on whatever training they received from wherever they came from. Officers and personnel who are not armed should receive tactics training so they understand what to expect from the armed officers.
The supervisors must be trained to manage all aspects of their officers’ actions and conduct regarding the deployment and use of their weapon. All armed employees and supervisors will need to be trained in the documentation procedures related to the deployment or use of firearms.
One often overlooked aspect of developing an armed program is establishing support systems and avenues of care for officers who may employ deadly force. Too often departments do not prepare support systems until after a shooting occurs and then only as an afterthought. The professional counseling and therapy resources that will be needed for the aftermath of critical incidents should be in place before they happen. Many departments have police chaplain corps which can also provide comfort to officers involved in a critical incident. These resources should also be available for spouses and family members who may be living with/caring for an officer in the aftermath of a critical incident.
For some departments and officers having a firearm in their possession and possibly stored at their home is a new experience and challenge. I recommend the department pay for a family range day. This would involve a basic firearms safety course for family members. This can be a cheap form of insurance and promote confidence and allay the fears of family members.
To be Clery complaint your department must have emergency operations plans. You may need to alter operational plans to include the employment of deadly force. Your active shooter plan will need to be altered when your officers become the primary responders.
Litigation Defense/Legal Support
When you are ready you should take time to introduce your legal counsel to your weapons program. They should be familiar with your tactics and training, policies and procedures. You should include them in some type of weapons program familiarization. This may include a day at the range or a ride along with an armed officer. It is important that any information/data you gather on this topic should be passed on to them.
You do not want your legal team to be introduced to your program immediately after an officer involved shooting. Some state peace officer associations offer personal liability insurance for officers. You should explore what is available and encourage your employees to become involved.
Due to the effort required to effect a major policy change like arming your department many people see the process as an end unto itself. Once the policy is approved your work is just beginning. During the IACLEA presentations the presenters talk about the time gap between approval and actual weapons deployment. To achieve this change you will have developed new partnerships and drawn potential stakeholders into your process. The breadth of these relationships can be important in gaining community consensus and overcoming objections.
Once you have the policy you should endeavor to maintain and strengthen these relationships. You should have some type of committee that is empowered to review the progress of the transition and make recommendations to the chief. Once the transition is complete this committee could conduct an annual review of the program. You consider the use of consultant to facilitate the process.
There are many outstanding persons with military and law enforcement backgrounds who are subject matter experts on firearms. Remember that if you hire a consultant they may need to interact with your stakeholders which will include, students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members. Be sure you select someone who can operate in the atmosphere of the academic environment.
Unlike the law enforcement/military world this person may have to do presentations to community members. They may also be ask to conduct research, evaluate data, and prepare reports. As your subject matter expert they will have to display skills beyond just being an expert on weapons and tactics.
While a long list of items this is the starting point. If you are in the process of transitioning to armed status you should consider these items and resolve them before you go to a nearby sporting goods store and start purchasing handguns. The reason these issues must be addressed is the reality that any of them may suddenly become relevant from the first shift your officers carry a firearm.