Augustana College in Rock Island could soon have its own police department.
College officials said this week said they are considering adding up to three sworn officers who will be armed with guns to work hand-in-hand with campus public safety.
Officials could make a proposal to Augustana's board of trustees at a meeting later this month or in May, said Evelyn Campbell, dean and vice president of student life.
“All this comes out of a desire to make sure that our students and staff are safe,” Campbell said. “We have a wonderful relationship with the Rock Island Police Department. They will continue to serve this campus as they already have. This adds a small piece of something new to our campus.”
Campbell said discussions about adding armed officers on campus are nothing new.
Campbell said the most recent discussions came due to some changes to the campus’s "all-hazards approach" and in law enforcement protocols for responding to mass casualty situations, like a campus shooting.
For example, old law enforcement protocol required police officers to wait for a SWAT team or other group to arrive to go in and neutralize an active shooter. Now, the first person on the scene goes in immediately because “time is of the essence,” Campbell said.
“That’s a significant change,” she said. “Really, it’s been within the last year that that’s evolved, so that changes how one would both respond and prepare for mass casualties.”
Campbell said there also has been a growing trend of colleges and universities to have an armed presence, especially after mass shootings at Virgina Tech in Blacksburg and Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
If the Augustana board decides to establish a campus police department, the plan is to have up to three armed officers who will operate inside the public safety office, Campbell said.
Those officers will have to complete the equivalent of police academy training and has carried a gun in an official capacity in another profession.
Campbell said three officers who already work in the public safety department that are qualified to fill the job. They include Chief of Public Safety Tom Phillis and Assistant Chief Mark Beckwith, former chief of the Milan Police Department.
Currently, there are 10 full-time, unsworn officers in the public safety department.
Their duties include actively patrolling campus; responding to all emergencies, including medical, fire, and personal issues; responding to calls for service, including helping with locked cars and lost keys; and handling parking issues, said Augustana spokeswoman Keri Rursch.
The addition of an armed police department will require state certification, which the college will seek if the board approves the plan, Campbell said
Officials also will decide what limitations to place on officers if the board approves the move, she added.
Jane Kettering, a spokeswoman at St. Ambrose University, said its security team consists of unarmed, non-sworn officers.
The university also contracts with off-duty Davenport police officers to provide a sworn, armed presence on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The university also used Scott County sheriff’s deputies sporadically during the week and occasionally uses a local guard service, Kettering said.