Tactical training for campus police triggers debate

In the past few years, there have been many political debates about the proper use of military grade weaponry. Assault rifle bans have skyrocketed the price of weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s.

On one side, there are those who believe that even the smallest of liberties should never be sacrificed for momentary safety, while the other side believes that in order to ensure safety some freedoms must be relinquished.

A recent tactical drill at Western Carolina University has some people “up in arms” about the use of military grade weapons on a school campus.

A July 11 Facebook photo shows WCU Campus Police training with ballistic shields, helmets, eye protection and tactical rifles from a drill that took place in June in which the WCU PD practiced clearing buildings of possible suspects and using ballistic shields.

Seth Sams, a 2003 WCU graduate, in a letter to the editor of the July 26 issue of The Western Carolinian, said, “The UNC system appears to be falling right in line with this trend of militarizing our campus security officers, and implementing training and gear that can only be seen as methods for crowd control, and less likely for public safety.”

WCU Police Chief Ernie Hudson said that the drill was “a tactical training for patrol course and didn’t have anything to do with crowd control” like sit-ins and protests, and that “officers have received tactical training for years. It is not new.”

In Sams’ letter to the editor, he also mentioned that “many of these institutions are getting the gear for teams like this through what is known as the ‘1033’ military surplus program… While the battle to ban ‘assault rifles’ rages on, we’re allowing campus police to arm themselves with military grade equipment?”

Hudson said that the weapons that are utilized have also been employed for years.

“What the training did involve was a continued progress in response to various scenarios involving high risk, dangerous, armed persons,” said Hudson. “While weaponry is a part of that, it focuses more on the tactics used to overcome a situation like that.”

Hudson mentioned tactics like communications, problem solving, use of entry tools, ballistic shields, ballistic covers and rescues of injured persons in a situation where rescuers might be exposed to a person shooting.

For many, they can understand why campus police may need to utilize tactical weapons. The newest gun legislation in North Carolina allows for the carrying of registered weapons in vehicles located on campus, while also in parks and bars that allow it.

One can also see the influx of unknown guns on campus as a potential safety hazard that can only be overcome by well-armed and highly-trained campus police officers, while others view the inflow of citizen weaponry as a safety measure against criminals like school shooters and armed robbers.

Is the war against crime a fight only for well-trained police officers or are well-informed and duly armed citizens a needed measure?