City of Meadville supplied ballistic vests to public safety

After discussing the issue of arming public safety officers in a June 21, 2016, meeting with Meadville officials and reportedly several times afterwards with students, Allegheny College acquired ballistic vests for its officers in April 2017, according to documents obtained by The Campus via a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law request.

Associate Dean of Students Jacquie Kondrot sent an email on June 21, 2016, to administrators and Meadville officials recapping a meeting that day in which the Cooperative Agreement between the city and the college was discussed. Among other topics, Kondrot said there was a discussion regarding arming the college’s public safety officers.

“Finally, the merits of having armed vs. unarmed police on campus were discussed,” an attachment to the email reads in part. “The College will continue to evaluate this issue and research required training for armed officers. In the meantime, the College might consider purchasing a Ballistic shield, blanket or vests.”

Dean of Students Kimberly Ferguson said topics brought up at the meeting were suggestions made by members of the Meadville government and that the college is not interested in providing public safety officers with firearms.

Present at the meeting from Allegheny were Kondrot, then-Interim Director of Safety and Security Sean Kennedy, Public Safety Sergeant Bob Wright, Title IX Coordinator Gilly Ford, Director of Student Conduct and Development Joe Hall and Interim Associate Dean of Students Gretchen Beck. While Ferguson was not present at this meeting, she was included in Kondrot’s email.

Ali Awadi, the college’s director of public safety, was not present at the meeting or copied on the original email, as he had not yet begun his duties at Allegheny. He was, however, forwarded a copy of it on August 11, with attachments included, by Meadville City Manager Andy Walker, ’00.

Since that meeting, the college has not equipped its public safety officers with firearms, and many administrators have denied that conversations about arming officers have occurred. In an April 13 response to an interview request by The Campus, Ferguson denied there being a current effort to arm officers.

“I think we laid the issue to rest,” Ferguson wrote in an email. “There is no effort to arm Public Safety [officers].”

In a 2015 report, the U.S. Department of Justice found that of 900 private schools with an enrollment larger than 2,500 the agency interviewed, 36 percent provided their campus law enforcement officers with firearms. Ferguson conducted a survey of schools in the Great Lakes Colleges Association, an organization Allegheny is in, and found that no college currently arms its officers. Kenyon College notified Ferguson that their officers were unarmed but there are discussions for “partial” armament in 3 to 5 years.

Awadi acknowledged at an Allegheny Student Government meeting on March 14 that there had been conversations about providing officers with firearms, but said there was no possibility of implementing such a policy.

“It was a question,” Awadi said at the March 14 meeting. “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.”

President James Mullen said the college does not support issuing officers firearms at a March 28 ASG meeting.

In an April 19 interview, Ferguson said the college has not researched required training for armed officers, something brought up in the June 21, 2016, meeting with Meadville officials.

“We have not investigated being armed,” Ferguson said.

Despite these denials by college administrators, some students say they have been approached by Allegheny officials regarding arming public safety officers.

Jake Reidenbach, ’19, said in a Feb. 22 interview with The Campus that Awadi brought up the topic at a meeting with the college’s football team at the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year.

“He kind of made a comment about guns slyly,” Reidenbach said.

Awadi told members of the football team that he was “working on getting guns on officers,” according to Reidenbach. The Campus has not been able to confirm these statements with other members of the team.

ASG Director of Diversity and Inclusion Yemi Olaiya, ’17, wrote in a March 9 email to ASG and Ferguson acquired by The Campus that she had been approached by Awadi about arming public safety officers.

“Dr. Awadi had been discussing the idea of it casually with me and what appears to be other individuals on campus,” Olaiya wrote in the email. “Since then I have received several concerns from other community members.”

Olaiya said the conversations she had been aware of dated back to the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, with her own occurring in August 2016.

Ferguson wrote a March 8 email to members of ASG members, obtained by The Campus as part of the same email chain as Olaiya’s email, explaining the origins of what she called a “false rumor” of the desire to arm public safety officers.

“We held a training in December, which has some individuals asking that the campus become armed, and other individuals suggesting that the campus should never be armed,” Ferguson’s email reads in part.

In an email to Sean McClain, ’18, Ferguson reiterated that this information is based on feedback from an active shooter training in December.

“The information about being armed was suggested anonymously as part of an evaluation following the Active Shooter Workshop,” Ferguson wrote to McClain on March 8.

Ferguson said the survey is anonymous.

“The comments are not attached to any one person. Even if there were a person, I could not share that information with you as per [The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] guidelines,” Ferguson said in a March 9 email to McClain.

As Awadi shared the survey with at least one Meadville official in an email sent on Dec. 15, 2016, obtained by The Campus via a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law request, The Campus was able to view the survey. The first question of the survey asked about the respondent’s association to Allegheny. Of 15 options, “student” is not listed.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which Ferguson claimed prevented her from sharing information about the survey in her March 9 email to McClain, applies only to students, not faculty, staff, members of the Meadville City Police Department or any other group listed on the survey.

The survey did not include any questions about guns. It did, however, include areas in which respondents could share their own experiences.

Ferguson said on April 19 that she knew of two letters written to the college by people present at a Dec. 14, 2016, active shooter training. The letters, according to Ferguson, were opposed to arming officers. Ferguson did not say whether or not there were any responses to the survey itself that were in favor or opposed to providing officers with firearms.

Although Ferguson has said numerous times that the rumors about providing public safety officers with firearms originated after the Dec. 14, 2016, active shooter training, the topic was brought up at a June 21, 2016, meeting with Meadville officials.

As Kondrot noted in her minutes of that meeting, the college would research training required for its officers to become armed and consider purchasing ballistic vests “in the meantime.”

On Feb. 26, Awadi wrote Walker an email that has been obtained by The Campus via a Right to Know request. In it, Awadi asked about a “letter for the vests (bullet proof).” On March 1, Walker sent Awadi an email containing a letter written by Gary Alizzeo, the city’s attorney, regarding the vests.

The letter states that the city will transfer 10 “bullet proof vests … received by the City in or about 1994,” as the college has “expressed an interest” in acquiring the vests.

Meadville Assistant Police Chief Michael Tautin, who will become the city’s chief of police next week, said the city donated the vests to Allegheny at no cost. The city made the college aware of the vests and the police department’s intention to get rid of them, Tautin said.