Regents don’t plan to arm DPS

Nate Engelberth

Department of Public Safety officers at the three state universities do not carry weapons, but some officers said it would help them provide better protection on campus.

Loras Jaeger, director of DPS, said he believes the benefits of armed officers far outweigh the risks.

“My opinion doesn’t really matter, though. You have to decide if you want unarmed or armed personnel on campus,” he said. “But if I was a student, I would want to be given the same amount of protection as if I was in downtown Des Moines.”

In a life-or-death situation involving deadly weapons, DPS will respond, Jaeger said. But officers must first contact the Ames Police Department, which is armed, to make the actual arrests or to confront the suspect.

This slows down the response time slightly, he said.

Jaeger said it would probably take approximately four to six minutes for Ames Police to respond depending on where units are as well as the time of day.

“It would be much shorter if [DPS] were armed,” he said.

Sgt. Mike Johns of the Ames Police Department declined to comment on whether his department would prefer if DPS were armed.

“We’ve functioned with them being unarmed for a lot of years,” Johns said. “We’ve supported [DPS] in the past in their quest to be armed … but we’d leave the decision to [the Board of Regents].”

The Board of Regents decided in the 1960s to have an unarmed “security force” at Iowa’s three public universities, Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.

Jaeger said the decision was made based on the former security force’s competence.

Owen Newlin, president of the Board of Regents, said the board has no current plans to change this policy.

“We won’t change from where we are unless we get a recommendation from one of the [university] presidents,” he said. “I’m not predicting what the board would do after the recommendation was given. … They might or might not accept the recommendation from the president.”

A lack of competency used to be a concern in deciding whether DPS would be armed, but now DPS officers go through the same 12-week training program as any other police officers in the state.

They also go through another 12-week program in the field at Iowa State, Jaeger said. He added that DPS is the highest educated police force in Iowa.

On staff there are several lawyers, an aerospace engineer and an officer with a doctorate in psychology.

The Board of Regents is still strong in its opinion though, Newlin said.

“I think [unarmed officers] is the right way to do it,” he said.

Jaeger said the issue is “based on emotion.” It will take a considerable effort to change the board’s opinion, not only from DPS, but from students as well, he said.

Chirag Kothari, sophomore in pre-business, said he doesn’t think DPS should be armed.

“I don’t think DPS right now has the type of crime that requires response from an armed officer. … They don’t deal with as much violent crime as most officers face,” he said. “They always have Ames police to back them up at any point.”

Kothari pointed out that every law enforcement agency has situations it can’t handle or it requires more help to handle, such as the relationship between SWAT teams and city law enforcement.

However, Brian McDow, sophomore in computer science, thinks DPS should be armed.

“I see them as any other police force, so I don’t have any problem with them being armed. Actually, I would feel better,” he said.

Dave Zarifis, associate director of public safety at UNI, said it’s a complicated issue.

“It’s not as clear and convenient as some might think … I certainly understand the Board of Regents’ position,” he said.

Zarifis said part of the decision not to be armed is officer safety.

“As a law enforcement agency, it sometimes becomes difficult to handle some situations. We’re not always aware of what we are responding to, so there is certainly a risk at times,” he said.

Dwayne Papke, assistant director of U of I’s public safety department, declined to comment on the situation.

DPS officers can carry weapons in emergency situations as designated by the university president, Jaeger said. DPS was authorized to carry guns only twice during former President Martin Jischke’s term.

One incident was an undercover drug bust that DPS and Ames police had been working on, and the other was for added security during a visit by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.