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Campus police force armed


Starting with the fall semester, UNK police officers are now carrying handguns as they conduct their duties on campus.

The decision was made in an effort to align UNK police procedures with practices at national university campuses and the Kearney Police Department Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office.

It “makes sense” to have all the university law enforcement officers carrying similar weapons, using the same procedures and being similarly trained, said Kelly Bartling, UNK assistant vice chancellor of communications and community relations.

Bartling referred to a 2011-2012 Department of Justice study indicating 92 percent of public-university campuses in the U.S. are patrolled by armed officers.

“So we are in the minority,” she said.

UNK Police Chief Jim Davis said he doesn’t think the change will affect anything on campus. He said he has had multiple people ask why they weren’t armed before. 

“I honestly think, and this is my opinion only, people already thought we were armed,” Davis said. 

“First choice” or non-lethal methods of force carried by UNK officers include the baton, pepper spray and taser. Officers are trained to use these methods first and firearms only when other options aren’t sufficient. Access to a weapon and proper training is the best way for an officer to protect campus from an imminent physical threat, Bartling said.

To become a collegiate police officer, candidates in Nebraska have to go through a program at the Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island. During this 16-week program, the academy teaches potential officers how to drive, how to shoot, how to write reports, and what they need to know about the law, including domestic violence, to begin a career as an officer, Davis said.

Once they complete that program, the officers go on to finish training with the UNK police department and become collegiate law enforcement officers.

“They can spend two months or longer just getting to know our system,” Davis said. He added that it could take a non-collegiate police officer a year or longer because they are hitting the road on their own. 

UNK police officers were allowed to carry handguns for a few years following a 1969 shooting incident on campus.

While first addressing that UNK is a secure campus, Davis added, “UNO is safe, UNL is safe, UNMC is safe, but people have to use their head.”

Contrary to the means of arming officers in 1969, Davis and Bartling said arming the officers now will help support Kearney Police Department and BFS, meaning better protection of neighborhood and community when called in emergencies.

Students, faculty members and community members are now offered another safety program. A new “See Something, Send Something” phone app allows anybody to submit a quick tip through his or her smartphone to a sheriff dispatcher. The office receives the tip the second it goes out. This nation-wide app has been introduced to the students of Kearney High School and 2,000 people have signed up so far.

“I think once we raise awareness of the protection officers are bringing to campus and increasing the protection, that means a safer campus, but with that awareness, it also brings opportunities for conversation,” Bartling said.

Communication allows UNK officers to be part of the campus community. When hiring an officer, Davis said he looks for someone who has had experience communicating one-on-one, whether it be sales or corrections. He said that he wants them to be out talking to students instead of sitting in their car the entire time.

“We work for the staff, we work for the faculty,” Davis said. “But mostly we work for the students. So we want these conversations. We want to have all kinds of dialogue.”

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