Report to the Vice PresidentDate: 27 January 2003
To: Art Costantino
Fm: Steve Huntsberry
Sub: REPORT TO THE VICE PRESIDENT RE SOP REVIEW
I submit this report at the request of the Washington Federation of State Employees Union via Art Costantino, Vice President for Student Affairs. As one component of a comprehensive TESC Police Standard Operating Procedure review, it is the purpose of this report to put forth my administrative perspective of the TESC Standard Operating Procedures in the area of Campus Police carrying firearms.
I will not dwell on the history except as it applies directly to the administration of the policy, and how the campus and surrounding environment has changed over the last six years. I hope to provide the reader with some meaningful insight regarding the evolution of the most pertinent limited arming recommendations. I will also provide details of how the limited arming policy morphed, by necessity, over the same period. I will discuss the administrative issues throughout the discourse.
The TESC DTF Recommendations and subsequent Police Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) are the result of a compromise, adopted with good intentions, by DTF members on both sides of the 24/7 (24 hours a day/seven days a week) arming issue. During the discussions there was a realization that aspects of the policy were not going to be perfect answers/ procedures, but for the time and the circumstances they would be at least adequate and functional. Over time, adequate and functional proved to be a correct assessment considering the SOPs have been in place since 1997. I must add, however, that the Recommendations and the SOPs were not always easy to administer.
During the six-year period, the environment, circumstances and the department's law enforcement focus changed. The surrounding population naturally increased but at a much faster rate than anticipated. Contact with non-community members became more frequent. Evergreen's "bubble" and Olympia's borders began to rub against each other with ever increasing friction. Vehicle traffic swelled. Two tragic traffic fatalities on the Evergreen Parkway dramatically changed the frequency of police traffic stops on Evergreen roadways. As a result, traffic enforcement has been successful in reducing vehicle speed on campus roadways and has led to the apprehension of numerous traffic and non-traffic criminal offenders. It came as somewhat of a surprise to discover the number of drug and alcohol related offenses that were factored into our crime statistics as a direct result of stepped-up traffic enforcement.
ENFORCEMENT CONNECTS POLICE AND OFFENDERS
We also began to increase our emphasis non-traffic crime prevention. Logically, by seeking out and preventing crime, Campus Officers must contact the violators in the course of their daily duties. Some are amateurs; many are persons making bad decisions-some are professionals; some are violent. Officers have made daylight arrests in many situations requiring physical control and hand restraints. On other occasions, Officers have made routine daytime contact with persons who were subsequently found to have long histories of serious criminal activity. Also during the daytime, Campus Officers have been threatened with death and suffered physical injury in more than a few incidents. We have learned that violence is not dictated by the time of day--Officers never know if, or when, a threat will be carried out.
Take for example, Eric Cole, aka the "Lumberjack", who came to our attention in reports from student Parking Booth workers. On more than one occasion booth workers notified police of a "scary" character who was acting menacingly and talking to them in a threatening manner. They stated that Cole would suddenly appear at the booth window on foot. He would make comments about how easy it would be to rob the attendant and other unsettling remarks. Police determined that Cole was a transient living out of his vehicle. Subsequent investigation revealed that Cole had mental problems and a long criminal history. Among other disturbing things, we learned that Cole was criminally trespassed from all State DSHS facilities for threatening employees with a knife and other weapons. We also learned that he was driving on a suspended license. He proved difficult and uncooperative when approached and questioned by the police on campus. Officers were placed on alert and ultimately observed him driving on the parkway. Cole was stopped by Campus Officers one afternoon and arrested for Driving While Suspended. Cole attempted to escape and a wrestling match ensued on the parkway. It took three Officers to wrestle Cole to the point of submission. He proved to be very strong and a very angry man. During his arrest Cole made several very "believable" death threats toward arresting Officers and toward the Evergreen Campus Community in general. Threats aside, Cole went to jail and shortly thereafter he was sent, involuntarily, to a mental institution. I believe that this was the first instance where I suggested to Art (or he suggested to me) that Officers be armed 24/7. We had no reason not to believe that Cole meant exactly what he said considering his violent history. We were also not certain exactly how long Cole would be held in jail or the hospital. As it turned out, Cole was released about two months later. Two weeks after release, with no sign of Cole and assurances from his parole officer that Cole would not act on his threats, Campus Police returned to limited arming SOP.
Over the past three years, I have had to place Officers on alert with full arming on nine occasions. I would estimate that the shortest period of 24/7 arming was a week to 10 days in duration. The longest period involved overlapping incidents and ran for approximately 5 months. Added together, I would estimate the Campus Officers have been required to be fully armed for a period amounting to 12 months.
DISAPPEARING TASK FORCE
The DTF members worked very hard to incorporate as many officer-safety features as possible into the Limited Arming Recommendations. They did not anticipate the significant number of potentially violent, threatening situations that would require police officers to be armed 24/7 during the limitation period. Nor did they anticipate the significant number of non-community members with crime and violence histories who would be contacted during routine daytime business. Nor did they anticipate that there would be a meth-amphetamine epidemic in Thurston County that would have a profound effect on the numbers and the nature of crimes coming to, and passing through, campus. And they did not anticipate that a small portion of permanent campus community members would generate situations that would produce significant threats of violence to officers and/or other community members.
Prior to 1996, members of the DTF had few examples of crime and violence on campus from which to draw some frame of reference. Most of those incidents had occurred in the 1980s but some members of the DTF were there during that time. Interesting enough, two of the most poignant incidents, a brutal murder and the armed robbery of the cashier's office, occurred in broad daylight.
One of the primary assumptions of the pro-limitation members of the DTF was that violence and crime were significantly less during daylight hours. Another assumption was that large numbers of people working and moving about during traditional business hours would be a natural deterrent to crime and violence. I believe I can safely say that there is no period of the day that is significantly safer than another-this is especially true when considering crimes associated with domestic and workplace violence issues. Perhaps the volume of daytime crime may be somewhat lower, but not significantly lower to counter the liability associated with a limited arming policy.
The following is an excellent example of a circumstance involving community members, threats of potential violence and the 24/7 arming of police. Please note that the situation involved daytime staff members of the Evergreen community so I must refrain from providing information that would allow a participant's identity to be divulged. Suffice it to say that a community member conveyed threats to peers and supervisors that were taken as a serious indication that violence was an imminent possibility. The subject was known to carry and/or have access to a deadly weapon(s) and was known for a volatile temper. Supervisors requested police assistance and 24/7 arming was instituted. We remained armed 24/7 while disciplinary procedures were imposed and the situation became diffused. A second 24/7 situation, very similar to the one just described, occurred about 3 years ago and was handled in the same fashion. On at least two occasions there have been two or more separate 24/7 "staff" situations occurring in the same time frame. This phenomenon has led to extended periods of 24/7 arming of campus officers.
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE: THE PROCESS
Members of the limited arming DTF and drafters of the SOPs were not exposed to the "school shooting" phenomenon that peaked with the Columbine Incident of April 20, 1999. We could not have foreseen the recent murder of a police officer by Evergreen student, Andrew Mickel. (The fact that he had an Evergreen connection caused officers to go 24/7 for a brief period of time between the murder and Mikel's arrest in New Hampshire.) In retrospect, I believe I would have argued more passionately for unlimited arming of Campus Officers with such powerful examples of the possibilities of violence on Campus.
Statistically, very few violent crimes are anticipated by police officers. Violence happens unexpectedly and does not "time-out" for the unprepared officer to retrieve her/his firearm. Violence occurs in seconds, not the minutes it would take for an unarmed, on-scene officer to properly equip his/herself to prevent serious injury or death.
As previously stated, The Evergreen State College Standard Operating Procedures regarding the arming of Police Offices was created by a task force of community members representative of all areas of the college. The process was not rushed, in fact the actual carrying of weapons did not occur until the year after arming police officers was authorized-until the SOPs were completed. The sub-committee charged with writing the SOPs often spent considerable time considering the use and meaning of a single word over another word in order that the operating procedures would be clear and workable.
In some respects, the policy, by design, is vague and flexible. The fact that the policy would restrict the period and/or instances when police officers could carry a firearm made flexibility desirable. It is coincidental that the primary reason that the policy has remained in place for so long is directly due to its flexibility.
Oddly, the same flexibility has made the administration of the policy extremely difficult. In certain areas, widely different individual interpretations can be made of the same policy/procedure and still remain within the guidelines of the SOP. The flexibility makes disciplinary actions very difficult except in the most flagrant of violations.
The basic strategy envisioned by the arming committee was that the firearm would be in a secure area or container while not being carried by the officer. The limitation time frame was designated as 0800 hrs. to 1800 hrs., seven days a week. Several devices or strategies were imbedded in the SOPs that would facilitate limited arming during business hours (daylight). The use of lock boxes in patrol vehicles and the use of bike carrying racks on the patrol vehicles were the two main concepts. The DTF envisioned that officers would utilize their patrol vehicle as mini/mobile offices and attempt to have them in close proximity as often as feasible. By carrying a bicycle on the patrol car, the mobile office concept was considered almost self-contained.
In one of the most controversial parts of the SOP, the spirit of the policy does not always translate to a literal interpretation. The SOP, in spirit, is written to limit the presence of visibly armed police officers--visibly armed in areas that are heavily frequented by community members during business hours. In essence, this means the core campus--Red Square and the surrounding academic buildings.
The Recommendation and SOP writers visualized unarmed, uniformed police officers communally mingling with faculty, staff and students on Red Square. The ultimate reality has come to be an environment that rarely sees a police officer, armed or not, on foot around the campus core between the hours of 0800 and 1800 hrs. With the exception of the Director and the Lieutenant, who are authorized to carry 24/7 all the time, the community seldom glimpses a patrol officer in the campus core unless the officer has been called to a situation that is SOP-authorized for arming-for example, a Bookstore alarm or a suspicious person call. As time passed, certain officers who preferred to be armed during their daily shift would continually opt for nighttime duty to avoid the confusion of the limited arming policy.
Realizing that there would be times and circumstances that would require officers to be armed during the limitation period, specific, authorized arming instances were outlined in the Arming DTF Recommendations (Page 5. III). This part of the policy created additional safety issues not experienced by fully armed police.
The principal issue revolved around the number of times the firearm would be moved from holster to lockbox and back again. It is axiomatic that the more a firearm is moved or handled the more likely an accidental discharge will occur. Two years ago I addressed concerns in this area in a memo to Art Costantino, the Vice President for Student Affairs. I estimated that TESC officers were required by SOP to handle their firearm eight times more than 24/7 armed officers during routine police work-VERY dangerous!
Ironically, if was the DTF's attempt to provide officers with authorization to arm themselves at their own discretion that has caused TESC officers, and me, the most concern and confusion regarding arming. Specifically, two parts of the Recommendations found under Section III are in question:
Section III A 1. c): Responding to potentially dangerous situations which include, but are not limited to, homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, rape, burglary, robbery, riot, prowler/suspicious person, domestic violence, suicide (with weapon), vehicle stops, narcotic (felony), and all physical arrest situations.
On the surface this piece is simple to understand and implement. Officers, bumping into any of the above listed situations, have no doubt that a firearm is required and will properly arm themselves.
However, it is this clause also, that is invoked when I, as Chief of Police, become aware that there is a significant long-term physical threat of violence to police officers and/or community members. This too, seems to be a straightforward expression stating that officers require firearms when dealing with severe situations.
As a balancing strategy in such situations, it has always been my practice to collaborate with the Vice President for Student Affairs. We assessed each threat separately and determined the likelihood that the threat might be carried out. In the past six years the Vice President and I have invoked this option on approximately 9 occasions. I should note here that there have been numerous, special situations where officers have armed themselves, or have been instructed to arm themselves, to counter a potential violent situation. I mention this only to point out that any of these situations had the potential to turn into the long-term category of 24/7 arming. Two examples of this type of activity are, standing by during an employee notification of termination or a student disciplinary hearing where a potential for violence has been assessed and dealing with Domestic Violence or child custody visitations.
In most of the cases/situations above, officer safety was/is not my major administrative problem. In the long-term arming scenarios, what generally caused the major difficulty has been that a few members of the community, having witnessed officers walking about with firearms in their holsters, have "sounded the alarm." They leaped to the conclusion that the college administration and/or the Police Chief were ignoring or purposely disregarding the limited arming policy. Rumors then abound that the college is manufacturing situations and using this particular mechanism as a means to subvert the Recommendations of the Limited Arming DTF and commit to permanent 24/7 arming.
During the first or second incident, it became obvious that I should take steps to deflect the rumor mill by informing the community when and why Officers would be armed during the period of limitation. This was later expanded to providing as much particular information about the threatening situation as possible. It also became apparent that notification of when Officers returned to limited arming SOP was just as important to particular members of the community.
This has always been a volatile issue and difficult to control due to the fact that often the circumstances surrounding the threat to the community cannot be related in detail. By providing only superficial information it was perceived by some as an underhanded attempt by the administration to implement 24/7 arming against the "will of the people."
Section III A 3: When patrolling areas distant from their vehicles, officers will visibly wear their firearm.
This DTF Arming Committee recommendation is by far the single most difficult aspect of the Police SOP to define, understand and administrate. It is also here, where the "spirit" of the recommendation's intent and the literal meaning of the words in the recommendations, often take separate paths. The "Catch"--in an attempt to provide Officers enough discretion to adequately and safely do their jobs, the DTF purposely did not define the concept or scope of "areas distant" from their vehicles.
The following example illustrates what I mean by "difficult" in the foregoing paragraph: The "spirit" of the intent as I understand it and as I believe was intended by the DTF meant that an officer patrolling along the deserted beach trail would be expected to carry his/her firearm. On the other hand, an officer walking from the police office to the lobby of the Library Building would not be expected to be armed. It is conceivable that both distances could be the same-the perception of need, the location and the focus are different; logic tells us that either situation could unexpectedly and rapidly deteriorate in a violent encounter. The DTF members were betting that violence was less likely to occur in the library full of people-in other words they played the odds. This type of thinking makes Police Officers very uncomfortable.
The DTF members believed they were doing a "good thing" by not defining "distant from their vehicle"-the Officer was given the gift of discretion. As a Police Officer, I support discretion-it causes me problems as an administrator. Ultimately, however, the above confliction of the definition of "distant from their vehicle" was not where the difficulty became manifest. Officers tended to self-define "distant from their vehicle" in terms of a distance where each Officer felt comfortably safe without a firearm. In the minds of the Officers, this definition greatly simplifies and clarifies the intentional vagueness of the DTF Recommendations. This view was supported in the minds of the Officers by an interpretation of the SOP by Labor and Industry officials. According to the Officers, L&I found no discrepancy in the SOPs by taking the literal definition of "distant from their vehicle" to mean "as soon as an Officer stepped from the car." What confounds the Officers is trying to understand or second-guess what the Chief/ Administration believes to be the correct distance (during any situation) from the vehicle to conform to the spirit of the Recommendations/SOP. I can hear them asking: How far away from my vehicle can I be, or not be, before I violate the Recommendations/SOP? Police Officers should not be worrying about when to carry a firearm; they should be thinking about personal and community safety and keeping the peace.
I believe the DTF members' motives were pure in their intentions to craft the fairest document possible within the "there will be some form of limitation to the arming of Campus Police" charge. Not an easy task-some would say impossible from a tactical/administrative point of view. I believe those DTF members not in favor of arming of police would have preferred a return to the "old days" when perhaps the Evergreen Bubble did exist to a greater extent than the present day. The fact that they went as far as they did to allow Campus Officers to apply discretion to the arming policy is a tribute to their willingness to collaborate and listen to diverse viewpoints.
The fact that the limited arming policy is not workable without severe reduction of safe working conditions for Officers and with obvious liability issues for the college and campus community members is not the fault of the DTF membership. I do not believe there could have been a fairer, more balanced policy, given the parameters in which they had to work, than the one that was adopted.
Unfortunately, the times and circumstances of our society and community have changed. I shudder to think of how we over-extended our measure of luck in that no life or death situation came to visit the campus. That we have suffered no accidental discharge due to unnecessary firearm handling is a tribute to the professionalism and training of the TESC Police Officers. That violations of the policy have been incredibly few further speaks of the "stripe" and the ability of Campus Officers.
The fact that 24/7 arming is safe and appropriate has been demonstrated numerous times through necessity. When the community is properly informed, the issue of Police Officers with firearms becomes an issue only to the very few. For the sake of community and officer safety, I must support full time firearm carry of Campus Police Officers. I can see no creditable argument(s) that would support any compromise placing them in jeopardy.