Employees and students at the local community college will discuss in the coming weeks whether campus security officers should carry firearms.
Cpt. Brad McFadin, head of the Campus Safety and Security Department at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, has suggested that he and at least some of his six officers be armed, an authority that also would allow them to detain suspects.
“We are at a disadvantage to protect not only ourselves but staff and faculty and students, and that’s the bottom line in today’s environment,” said McFadin.
Meetings to discuss the issue are expected to occur on campus starting this week as faculty, staff and students arrive for fall classes, which start Tuesday.
A former law enforcement officer for 25 years, including with the Roswell Police Department, McFadin joined ENMU-R in January.
He said the decision is prompted in part by several years of mass shootings in the United States at schools and public venues, including at community colleges. In 2019, the U.S. has had at least 17 mass shootings resulting in deaths, according to various press reports, and the Collegiate Times in Virginia reported in 2018 that there were 26 mass shootings on college campuses in the United States from 2007 to 2018.
“It is something I had in mind when I came aboard,” McFadin said, “and I think certain events recently certainly have put it more in the forefront. It is something that I thought should have been done before I went to work out there.”
McFadin and Lt. Benjamin Dean also said that campus security officers increasingly are coming across firearms and ammunition in their work with students and visitors. Firearms are prohibited on higher education campuses by state law, with few exceptions. But they are allowed in privately owned vehicles, which New Mexico defines as an extension of one’s home.
Dean said he has worked on the campus for 10 years and has found firearms and ammunition, an anti-tank rocket launcher and a grenade in the dormitories.
“We’ve had several instances where we have encountered students or spouses or ex-spouses of the students who have come to campus with a grievance with a firearm,” Dean said. He said currently, they do not have a lot of means to answer that.
He explained that campus security must call the Roswell Police Department or the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office to deal with serious incidents, with response times of five to 20 minutes. Dean said that campus security response time across the campus is 60 seconds or less.
Although the dormitories are privately owned and managed, campus security responds to incidents there and patrols the area. McFadin, Dean and administrators said they are also responsible for New Mexico National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy cadets and University High School and Early College High School students who attend classes or use resources on campus.
Campus crime statistics published by the college indicate one arrest and 11 referrals to law enforcement agencies regarding weapons on campus or in college-owned buildings from 2015 to 2017. Violent crimes include two rapes on campus in 2017 and seven assaults from 2015 to 2017. There were also four stalking incidents and a domestic violence report from 2016 to 2017. In addition, in April 2014, a 22-year-old man was found dead from a gunshot wound in an ENMU-R dormitory during the spring break recess.
McFadin noted that considering armed officers is only part of what the department is doing regarding campus safety. He said the department is also working to create a safe physical campus; conducting regular active-shooter, emergency and fire drills with staff and students; and building partnerships with law enforcement and security personnel statewide. In addition, the university plans to ask for $2.5 million in bond funding for upgrades to its exterior lighting and its security systems.
ENMU-R President Shawn Powell said he has been told that campus security once had armed officers. If the current department is allowed to carry firearms, the campus would be joining several other higher education institutions in the region. Although ENMU-Ruidoso does not have its own security or police department, the main school in the ENMU system, the university in Portales, has a police force as well as security officers, with the sworn police officers carrying firearms, according to its police chief, Brad Mauldin. The other state university systems also have their own police units. New Mexico Military Institute, both a high school and a junior college, has its own police force and armed officers. And, according to McFadin, the community college in Hobbs has armed security.
Armed security is also prevalent in many public K12 schools in the United States. A July 2019 National Center for Education Statistics report indicated that 46.7% of public K12 schools have armed security.
The ENMU-R matter likely will come before the Branch Community College Board after campus meetings, but board member Ralph Fresquez voiced his opinion that the decision should be made by McFadin and his officers.
“I think the determination about how far we should go should be mainly up to him,” he said. “I think we have a very, very strong obligation to see that our people here are safe.”
Estefani Trieles, a full-time nursing student from Roswell and president of the Circle K student organization at ENMU-R, said she feels safe on campus. She said she did not encounter a dangerous situation during her first year of studies and is aware of security officers patrolling campus on a regular basis.
“I think that, with everything that has been going on, and it is not just here but everywhere … I think it would be a good idea to have, not a lot of armed people, but just a few,” she said.
She added that she plans to participate in the upcoming campus meetings to learn more.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.