Dear Villanova Community Members,
For the past two years, the University has been exploring whether Villanova’s Public Safety Department should become a police department. After prayerful reflection and extensive discussion, I recommended, and the Board of Trustees approved, establishing a University police department that will be armed. This means Villanova’s Public Safety Department will include a combination of security officers and police officers. The latter will have the same authority and undergo the same specialized training as those in public law enforcement.
Preparation for this change will begin immediately, and I anticipate that the first Villanova police officers will be in place by fall 2016. Upon completion, approximately 20 percent of the 75-member department will be police officers, which equates to two or three police officers per shift. This select group of officers will undergo extensive police academy training, and will carry firearms and other defensive equipment. All Public Safety personnel will receive conflict resolution, anti-bias and sensitivity training. I also am establishing an Oversight Committee that will report to Ken Valosky, Executive Vice President, to ensure that safeguards are in place and that appropriate policies and procedures are followed.
I understand that there is a wide range of opinions surrounding this topic, but the safety of our community is my top priority. We are extremely fortunate that Villanova has been a safe place, but we would be remiss not to consider what has been happening on college campuses across the country. These kinds of incidents threaten our safety—and peace of mind—making the need for enhanced campus protection essential.
Many in our community expressed to me how shaken they were two weeks ago with the threat to Philadelphia-area colleges and universities. My greatest fear is the loss of a member of our community, particularly as a result of violence on our campus. This decision simply comes down to protecting our community in a time when violent acts at educational institutions are on an alarming upward trend. That being said, I know that moving in this direction will not necessarily prevent senseless acts of violence, but it will make us more appropriately prepared to handle these type of situations.
This is a significant change for the University, and I did not make the decision lightly. I asked for input from our community through forums and surveys, and appointed a task force comprised of students, faculty, staff and administrators to explore this issue. The University also evaluated best security practices in higher education and hired an independent security consultant to assess the current public safety model. I thoughtfully reflected on the feedback, recommendations and information I received from these various sources, and concluded that creating a University police department is the best option for responding quickly to situations that threaten the safety of our community.
Our Public Safety Department does a wonderful job, yet members face significant challenges in responding to any type of emergency situation on campus. Simply put, as security officers, they can be hindered by traffic because they have no authority to provide an expedited response in an emergency situation. They also cannot communicate with responding police agencies to coordinate efforts and provide timely information, or protect themselves or community members in the event of an active shooter. Moving to a department that includes police officers eliminates these and other significant limitations.
It’s unfortunate, but having University police officers has become standard practice these days. Nearly 70 percent of college and universities have police officers on their campuses, and 94 percent of those officers are armed. While our location on the Main Line is considered relatively safe, Villanova is highly visible, and we have not been without incident the past few years. These factors, coupled with three train stations on campus and our close proximity to a major highway, set Villanova apart from our local peers and require a higher level of campus security.
Like most universities, we value and embrace an open campus, and host hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. However, we must not overlook the significant responsibility that comes with it. To preserve these characteristics, we must learn from events—some incredibly tragic—that have occurred at schools all over the country and adjust accordingly. I am confident that we must change, as other colleges and universities have, and put our Public Safety Department in a better position to keep our campus community safe.
In the near future, more information will be shared about this change. During the transition, I ask for your cooperation as we strive to make Villanova a safer and more secure environment. As always, this decision was made in the interest of doing what I believe is best for our entire community.
Fr. Peter Donohue, OSA