Allegheny Student Government voted on March 28 to approve ASG resolution 17-02, which voiced student government’s opposition to the arming of Allegheny public safety officers.
The resolution was proposed on March 14, following rumors that Director of Public Safety Ali Awadi had spoken privately about the possibility of arming his officers with firearms.
President of the College James Mullen spoke prior to the passage of the resolution. In his remarks, he said the college does not support issuing firearms to public safety officers.
At the March 14 meeting, Awadi stressed that there was never a formal discussion or proposal to arm public safety officers. He said he brought it up informally because all the officers are certified police officers.
“It was a question. It wasn’t even something that was an idea. To me, an idea is something that you might be implementing. It was more of a question, as you have certified police officers,” Awadi said.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Yemi Olaiya, ’17, who proposed the resolution, said it was meant to calm fears among students and lay out ASG’s position on the issue for the future.
A letter was also presented to ASG at its March 14 meeting from Sean McClain, ’18, a student who wrote to ASG after raising the question of whether the college intends to arm its public safety officers. In the letter, McClain said he contacted Awadi, and later Dean of Students Kimberly Ferguson, but received no definitive answers from either one.
“I personally reached out to Dr. Awadi … and while to his credit he replied quickly, his reply didn’t address my question,” McClain wrote in the letter. “When I pressed him for an answer, this time I received no reply and was handed off to Dean Ferguson.”
McClain wrote that Ferguson responded that there was no interest on the part of the college in becoming an armed campus. He said Olaiya “tactfully refuted” Ferguson’s statement in an email conversation with Ferguson and all ASG senators.
“I would like to state that there have been several ‘informal’ conversations about the Office of Public Safety arming their officers,” Olaiya wrote in an email to Ferguson that was obtained by The Campus.
Olaiya said in later emails to Ferguson that Awadi had been discussing the issue “casually” with other individuals on campus.
Shortly after this, McClain said Ferguson sent him an email in which she said she would not answer any further questions regarding the matter.
“This is the final correspondence on this matter. Neither Dr. Awadi or I will entertain any further questions as I have been very clear and transparent regarding all of your questions,” Ferguson wrote in the email.
Awadi attended the March 14 meeting, but said it was not a subject on which he could speak openly.
“I can’t be transparent. It’s a situation that’s so touchy right now that I’m letting the dean of students and the Executive Council answer those questions, so that’s the main reason,” Awadi said.
Olaiya said that, while there have only been informal conversations about the arming of public safety officers, the resolution was meant to get out in front of the issue and solidify ASG’s stance.
“It was never a formal process that was going on, but before anything formal could happen, essentially stopping it in its tracks, that was the idea behind [the resolution],” Olaiya said.
Director of Organizational Development Mollie McDermott, ’18, said on March 14 that a possible fear of the student body is that equipping officers with firearms may give officers too much power. Class of 2020 Vice President Jason Ferrante said having armed officers could lead to a “potential over-escalation of force” in situations.
Sen. John Fazio, ’19, said he spoke with constituents who proposed that one public safety officer could be in charge of a firearm, and could spend a full shift in the Office of Public Safety, leaving only under circumstances that call for the use of a firearm. Director of Finance Luke McBride, ’18, said Fazio’s proposal had flaws, including meaning one less officer would be available to patrol the campus during every shift.
Both Ferguson and Awadi said at the March 14 meeting that if the college were ever to consider arming public safety, there would be a long review process before any action was taken. Ferguson said this is a process that students would have input on.
Awadi said even if the college were to change its stance on arming officers, it would be a long process before any of the officers were actually sent out on campus with a firearm.
“I think there’s research that needs to be involved. I don’t think we should do kneejerk reactions, that’s all I’m saying. Do research first,” Awadi said on March 14.
During the March 14 meeting, several senators voiced their concerns regarding the ability of the college to respond to an active shooter on campus.
Awadi said his officers have received training on how to handle the situation, and if it were to occur, he said it would be handled primarily by the Meadville City Police Department. He said he and his officers now have a direct radio link to the Meadville Police, which would allow his officers to contact them quickly.
In addition, Awadi said he and his officers are continuing to train on how to handle an active shooter in conjunction with both state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve done a lot of training and we actually have a drill in June. … It’s an active drill that we’re going to be participating in with Meadville police, state police, FBI — everybody’s going to be here,” Awadi said.