While there have been a wide range of responses to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut that took place last December, few have looked to have an impact on our community. At The Evergreen State College, the student group Police Awareness and Student Safety (PASS) asked the school to provide Police Services with heavier firearms. The request was specifically for: three assault rifles as well as ammunition, upgraded body armor and helmets, and rifle proficiency training. This would amount to a cost of $10,000 this year for the purchase and an additional $2,000 each year for the next five years.
While it was not the Police Services that made the request, the chief of Police Services, Ed Sorger, said that he is in favor of the request and hopes that his officers can get the proper training and equipment that he says they need in order to deal with an on campus shooter. Brendan Hale, an Evergreen student who was on the Police Services Review Board Committee (a committee made up of students and faculty to vote on issues such as this) was also one of the original co-coordinators of PASS, which formed last year. Hale left PASS after they began to lobby for heavier firearms, which he says did not “not align with my views, or the policy of trying to make students and police interact with each other. I think that it was instead tearing them apart, because I think that the vast majority of Evergreen students do not want more guns on campus.”
In response to the proposal made by PASS, the Geoduck Student Union (GSU), the group in charge of representing the student body, issued a statement rejecting the proposal while offering up some alternatives. GSU proposed a “Disappearing Task Force” made up of students, faculty, and administration to determine the campus preparedness in case of a shooter. GSU also suggests putting in place a “prevention plan” that would allow members of Evergreen to have a place to report persons that shows signs of violent behavior that could be acted upon others.
The statement from the GSU also details surveys done by GSU itself and one done by the Police Services Services Committee Review Board (PSCRB). These surveys show that most students are concerned with the threat of sexual assault and natural disasters and that worries over an on campus shooting rank lower than both of the other concerns. GSU also notes that the likelihood of a shooter is much less than sexual assault and natural disasters.
Police Services haven’t had guns for very long. Up until the 90s they didn’t carry guns on campus. This said, other state schools have had armed campus security for longer and most of them have the sort of firearms that PASS is asking for. Right now Police Services have what Chief Sorger calls “mutual aid agreements” with the Thurston County sheriff, Washington State Patrol, and the Olympia police department to respond if there is a shooter on campus. Sorger notes that most shootings that take place at a school happen in a very short amount of time; generally less than five minutes.
Right now Police Services has ballistic shields, helmets, and vests to protect themselves from a shooter. They are also armed with handguns but Sorger says he would prefer rifles, as they would give his staff the ability to stop a shooter from a safer range and would also be more accurate. Sorger also brought up the case of 9/11 flight United 93, where passengers rushed the cockpit, keeping the plane from reaching its destination and crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. He says that “the fight needs to happen when [the shooting] happens. When this person shows up with a gun right there and then, whether it’s a student, staff, or faculty…”
The PSCRB voted not to grant the request for more equipment. When asked if they would continue to seek more equipment, a co-coordinator for PASS said that they are continuing to get information on the matter and that they are also talking to the Evergreen board of trustees as well as the state legislature.
Eliot Nelson is a student at The Evergreen State College, studying political science and creative writing. He is an intern with Works in Progress and is pursuing a career in journalism.