WILKES-BARRE, PA (June 12, 2014) - Wilkes University announced today that it will begin to arm some members of its public safety department, creating a hybrid force that is better equipped to act as first responders on campus and coordinate with the Wilkes-Barre Police Department.
In announcing the decision, University President Patrick F. Leahy said it followed two years of study that began when he became president in July 2012.
“Soon after I became Wilkes’ sixth president, I identified a number of key issues that would be priorities during my presidency,” Leahy said. “Ensuring the safety of our students was among them and it remains among my highest priorities. This decision will enhance our already safe campus with increased security.”
The decision to arm public safety officers grew out of recommendations made by Margolis Healy & Associates, a nationally recognized consulting firm specializing in college and school security issues. Wilkes hired the Vermont-based firm in 2012 to conduct an evaluation of its public safety function. Arming officers was among a number of recommendations made by the firm. Wilkes has already implemented many of the report’s other recommendations including: 1) adding dedicated dispatchers to the public safety department; 2) increasing visibility for officers patrolling campus; 3) an enhanced security camera system; and 4) hiring a new public safety director. Wilkes also held campus meetings with students, faculty and staff to gather opinions and answer questions about arming officers.
Wilkes’ new Director of Public Safety Christopher Jagoe, who joined the University in March 2014, concurred with the recommendation to arm officers. Jagoe came to Wilkes after more than 20 years as an officer with the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.
The University Public Safety Department already has five officers who have Pennsylvania Act 120 training, which is the training required of municipal police officers in the state. These officers – all veteran law enforcement officers – will begin carrying firearms while on duty this summer. Act 120 training requires more than 700 hours of comprehensive training covering every aspect of law enforcement and firearm management. Plans call for an additional three Wilkes public safety officers to receive Act 120 training in summer 2015.
The officers will not have arrest powers. Leahy emphasized that the University will maintain its close working partnership with the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. Wilkes-Barre Mayor Thomas Leighton welcomed the University’s decision.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Wilkes University to make our community safer. We think the addition of highly trained Act 120 officers to its public safety department will complement the city’s and the University’s safety efforts,” Leighton said.
Leahy said that the hybrid public safety force has a number of benefits for Wilkes. “It will allow our officers to take immediate action, rather than wait for assistance to arrive,” Leahy said. “It also minimizes the likelihood of injury to our officers, allowing for the appropriate use of force to defend themselves and others.” The decision also sends a visible message to the criminal element that Wilkes has a trained staff of law enforcement professionals.
About Wilkes University:
Wilkes University is an independent institution of higher education dedicated to academic and intellectual excellence through mentoring in the liberal arts, sciences, and professional programs. Founded in 1933, the university provides its students with the experience, mentoring and education necessary for career and intellectual development as well as personal growth. Recently named one of the fastest growing universities in the United States by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wilkes offers the doctor of nursing practice, doctor of education and doctor of pharmacy degrees and more than a dozen master’s degree programs, including the master of business administration and master of fine arts in creative writing. Learn more at www.wilkes.edu