Posted at 12:20 a.m., Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Armed police force at UH would cost $1.2M
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
The armed force would require approval from state lawmakers and the UH Board of Regents. The university would retain its current staff of 36 security officers and remodel buildings on campus to house the armed officers.
Kitty Lagareta, chairwoman of the regents, said she supports the idea.
Having an armed police force at UH-Manoahas been raised in the past, but students, faculty and staff had rejected the notion. The idea has gained renewed attention in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.
Any new proposal before the 12-member Board of Regents would be "considered very seriously," Lagareta said.
"I believe one of the things we owe our students is a safe environment. I'm glad the discussion is up again and I'm sorry it happened under such tragic circumstances, but I hope a recommendation comes to the board. I would be inclined to support it."
Other regents declined comment yesterday and referred questions to Lagareta.
University security officials are fast-tracking plans to beef up security at the 300-acre Manoa campus in the aftermath of Monday's massacre.
Armed UH officers would have authority to arrest suspects and use deadly force and would undergo training comparable to Honolulu police recruits at the Honolulu Police Department's Waipahu facility, according to the study.
TRAINING COST EXTRA
UH officials said the start-up costs include $950,000 for officer salaries and $225,000 for equipment. The cost of training was not included in the study, but HPD officials estimate it costs about $88,000 to recruit, train, pay and commission a new officer.
If a new force is not authorized, the university also is considering signing a $500,000 contract with either the state sheriff's office or HPDto have armed officers patrol the campus 24 hours a day.
In addition to discussions about armed officers, the university is reviewing plans to set up a public address system for sending a campuswide alarm in the event of a catastrophic event. Officials also are studying how to lock down large portions of the campus, a task that they acknowledge would not be easy at the commuter school.
"We're going to lay it all out and we're going to meet with different organizations on campus and discuss the options available to us," said Neal Sakamoto, chief of security at UH-Manoa. "We can't prevent 100 percent of the incidents, but the presence of an armed police force would increase the feeling of safety and security. It would provide a quicker response time and hopefully it would deter this (random shootings) from happening."
Added UH-Manoa spokesman Gregg Takayama, "Remember that Virginia Tech does have a campus police force and they are armed, so it's not a sure thing that an armed force would prevent something like that (Monday's massacre). But it's worth considering."
The police force plan is still in the discussion stage, and university officials said the next step is to take the proposal to students, faculty and staff. If met with approval, a formal proposal will be put together and brought before the Board of Regents. Sakamoto hopes to put the matter before the state Legislature by the start of the 2008 session.
"After the Virginia Tech shooting, we're going to set up meetings with the faculty, staff and students. There is an urgency to try and hurry it along," Sakamoto said. "Ideally, we'd like to have a proposal ready for the 2008 legislative session, whatever option is most acceptable to the campus and the Board of Regents."
As far as other security alternatives, the state Department of Public Safety said the university approached DPS in the last year to discuss hiring state deputy sheriffs to work full time at the Manoa campus. DPS provided university officials with a cost estimate for a certain number of officers and detailed what type of equipment and support staff would be necessary.
"It would be similar to the set-up we have at the airport where the state Transportation Department pays for it," said DPS Deputy Director James Propotnick. "They approached us and we gave them options.
"It wouldn't be cheap. I wouldn't put new people there. I'd detail experienced people who are trained and have some years under their belt. I have all the confidence in my deputy sheriffs."
Support for an armed campus police force that would be separate from HPD or the state deputy sheriffs is mixed.
Honolulu police Chief Boisse Correa does not like the idea and says that HPD officers are more than capable of responding quickly and effectively to a rampaging gunman at UH or any other institution.
"This issue has come up over several years and we were not in favor of extending guns to security people at UH," said Correa, who supervised the department's response to the 1999 Xerox shootings, in which seven people were killed.
"The key right now is we can't overreact. It's difficult to make any decision right now."
PROCEDURES IN PLACE
Since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, HPD has had procedures to deal with a so-called "active shooter." The procedure is reviewed annually and is part of the department's training regimen.
The department has a lock-down and containment plan for every school on O'ahu, Correa said.
Officers with the department's Specialized Services Division regularly train in the "active shooter" scenario and in the past year have conducted exercises on the UH-Manoa campus. The most recent exercise was conducted March 28.
"We are the safest major city in the U.S.," Correa said at a news conference yesterday. "We've been training for the worst-case scenario for some time. We pray it doesn't happen here, but we are prepared for it."