When Lewis Eakins learned about the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2006, he wanted to increase the level of preparedness for his campus safety officers at Oakwood University.
Eakins, the director of Public Safety at the Adventist university in Huntsville, Alabama, embarked upon a state procedure that allows a private university to create its own police department. The move, he says, has enhanced training and now allows several of his 15 officers to carry a firearm.
“We don’t have crimes to justify having a police agency, but we wanted to make sure we have the highest level of training so we can deal with any threat that comes on this campus,” said Eakins, a former assistant police chief who holds a master's degree in security management.
With recent mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, and increasingly similar incidents worldwide, Adventist security professionals say the issue of safety officers carrying firearms should be up for discussion. Though it’s a controversial issue in a denomination that has historically promoted non-combatency and conscientious objection, top security directors at numerous Adventist institutions are urging a greater level of preparedness for responding to potential threats.
Moreover, they want the denomination to know that they are a resource for church leaders – there is a cadre of security professionals within the church who can offer experience, consulting and staffing to support public safety departments at campuses and institutions.
“Administrators don’t need to go to outside consultants. Many of us have 20 to 30 years of experience in law enforcement. We’re the missionaries who know this business,” said Paul Muniz, a former police chief and director of security for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.
Muniz is a board member and chaplain of the Professional Adventists for Safety and Security (PASS), a group that will hold its third meeting from July 15-16 at Loma Linda University in California.
PASS launched in 2010 when nine Adventist security professionals met at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. After the group’s first meeting, PASS again met in 2012 at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, with roughly 15 in attendance.
PASS president Dale Hodges first organized the group as a networking opportunity for campus safety officials to share best practices and encourage standards for hiring staff.
Campus safety now more than ever includes working closely with information technology professionals to implementing tracking systems and immediate incident notifications. Officers also discuss methods of policing and stopping unidentified individuals. Despite advancing security practices, many security directors admittedly still trade tips on the usual struggles of trying to enforce parking policies and clearing a building of students before closing it for the night.
Hodges, a former homicide detective who serves as director of the Office of Campus Safety at Andrews University, echoed other PASS members saying that standards for hiring security directors has improved over the years. No longer are a uniform and a badge given to someone without experience and training.
“Historically in the Adventist community they hadn’t picked out professionals in these jobs. I think in today’s day and age the Adventist community as a whole is recognizing that and trying to make up for it.”
This year’s PASS meeting is being organized by Suzy Douma, director of security at Loma Linda University. She was a police officer for 22 years and holds a master’s degree in public administration.
“Over the years the qualifications have improved. We’ve become more strict in hiring,” Douma said. She oversees a staff of more than 50, including three K-9 units.
Douma said she feels strong support from her university administration, but admits it’s sometimes still a challenge helping people understand the role of a campus safety officer. “We’re the ones who have to take control when others haven’t been able to get control,” she said.
Now that mass shootings and appropriate responses are in the public spotlight, she said the key issue is the “timeliness” of the response. “Problems can be so emergent that you can’t wait.”
At Oakwood, the first three officers upon a scene would be required to engage a shooter. At Loma Linda, campus safety staff are trained to respond to shooting incidents by helping people evacuate, finding shelter and setting up a premimter to maintain safety until armed officers arrive. Currently, however, "We are not prepared, trained or armed to mitigate the danger of shooter," Douma said.
“It’s not my decision, but I think our university is open to that kind of discussion,” Douma said.
“I’ve been trying to have this discussion for years,” said Jim Vines, director of security at the Adventist Church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. He said five officers on staff are licensed to carry a concealed firearm.
“The Bible says the world is just going to get worse. We want to be proactive and be prepared,” Vines said.
The board members of PASS all work in the denomination’s North American Division, but they represent organizations of the world church. Oakwood, Andrews, Loma Linda and ADRA are all institutions directly affiliated with the Adventist Church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Muniz, ADRA’s security director, says the issue comes down to how to best protect workers. He sets up protocols for humanitarian workers entering new areas worldwide. He holds a master’s of divinity degree from Andrews and says the story of Nehemiah is an apt example of the current debate.
“The workers doing God’s work of rebuilding the wall each had their swords on them just in case. They weren’t looking to kill people, but they were ready to address the enemy,” Muniz said.
“That’s more valid today than ever before. We need protection for our people who are involved in the upbringing of our children.”
For more information about PASS and its upcoming meeting, contact Dale Hodges either through email at [email protected], or by calling his office at 1-269-471-3321.