Board of Trustees Votes To Keep ACPD Armed

The board of trustees has voted to keep the Amherst College Police Department armed, President Biddy Martin announced on Monday, April 18. The announcement came after the release of the final report from the Campus Safety Advisory Committee.

Board of Trustees Votes To Keep ACPD Armed
After reviewing the final report of the Campus Safety Advisory Committee, the board of trustees voted to maintain the Amherst College Police Department as a sworn, armed police department. Photo courtesy of Matai Curzon '22.

The Board of Trustees has voted to keep the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD) armed, President Biddy Martin announced in an email to students, staff, and faculty on Monday. The announcement came after the release just minutes earlier of the final report from the Campus Safety Advisory Committee (CSAC), which the board consulted before making their decision.

The CSAC was charged with surveying the community and informing the board’s conversations about policing last May, in an effort to rethink and redesign public safety at the college. The initiative came in response to persistent calls by student groups — particularly the Black Students Union, whom Martin specifically thanked in her email — to disarm ACPD.

In the email, Martin listed several reasons the board voted not to disarm ACPD. Most notably, the CSAC’s report did not recommend disarming ACPD. However, the committee did suggest that weapons “should be secured on campus rather than carried.”

The board voted not to adopt this suggestion, citing a lack of “significant examples of places in the U.S. where this has been done successfully,” as well as a fear that delayed response times could be fatal.

Although the board did not agree with the report’s firearm recommendations, they endorsed “shifting the non-emergency safety functions out of ACPD and reducing the presence and role of ACPD on campus.”

Other reasons the board voted not to disarm included protecting against the potential threat of armed outsiders entering campus, and that ACPD would no longer meet Massachusetts certification requirements, thus losing resources and privileges (such as detaining suspicious individuals) granted to certified departments.

The board also noted that relying on Amherst Police Department (APD) as opposed to ACPD, was “not a viable alternative,” citing the community safety survey. Not only did the survey indicate that many community members would disapprove of that shift, but APD also “would face very real limits in their ability to get to know our campus and its buildings, as well as our community members.”

Although the board voted against disarming ACPD, they are taking numerous steps based on the committee’s report. These steps include communicating where on campus armed officers will be, defining and reassessing the roles of Community Safety Assistants (CSA) and Community Safety Officers (CSO), creating an ongoing campus safety advisory committee, and moving routine transactions — such as picking up keys — out of the ACPD building. ACPD will also receive additional training that focuses on identity, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions that could influence their interactions with the community.

The committee’s report — which was sent to students, staff, and faculty shortly before Martin’s announcement, in an email signed by Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences Allen J. Hart, chair of the committee, and all other student, staff, and faculty members of the committee — was based on feedback from the community, which the committee gathered through a variety of engagement sessions, listening circles, meetings, and surveys. The committee also looked to external reports and recommendations from peer institutions.

The report establishes a vision of campus safety based on “a constellation of care” that includes, but does not center, ACPD. It leans towards a restorative justice approach in handling campus business, and advocates a sense of belonging and a wealth of resources for mental health as key in an understanding of “safety.”

In its recommendations for ACPD, the committee identifies the perspectives of community actors such as students, staff, and ACPD officers. The synthesis of these perspectives results in a framework that maintains ACPD’s importance, but urges significant changes to its role.

The committee advocates for many broad changes, such as recommending that “the college develop and implement a comprehensive and inclusive constellation of care guided by the core values of safety, equity, and justice and continually informed by the needs of community members in the allocation of resources.” They also advance calls for “further work” on a variety of issues, including “the essential roles and responsibilities of campus police” and “where and how the College can employ unarmed staff for security.” The committee also advises a higher degree of transparency and communication in ACPD decision-making.

On a more concrete level, the committee suggests 24/7 response structures for mental health crises, and sweeping expansions of the Counseling Center in accordance with demonstrated need for identity-conscious and trauma-response counseling. This includes a proposal that at least one “sexual assault advocate” be hired at the Counseling Center. They also propose enlisting support from the Center for Restorative Practices in bridging the oft-mentioned divide between ACPD officers and students. “Given their role in the constellation of care, campus police need to be a part of our community and not isolated from it,” the report states.

The report also dedicates a section to identity-based harms and sexual respect. In addressing these concerns, the committee advocated for “enhancing the role of campus police in the prevention of sexual violence and other identity-based harms,” expanding mandatory sexual respect programming, and a “cautious support” of expanding peer-to-peer models of addressing harm.

This story is still developing. A follow-up piece encompassing student and administrative responses will be published next week.