Editorial: Strictly about safety at GCC

The prospect of having to arm Greenfield Community College police officers is a sad commentary on the times in which we live.

But feelings aside, everyone should see this as being strictly about safety.

Up to this point in time, thankfully, Greenfield Community College, with its open and publicly accessible campus, has not had a tragedy unfold involving a sick or angry person with a gun or other weapon. But there are other college campuses that had that same sense of quiet and security — only to have it shattered by a terrible attack. Think Virginia Tech in 2007, Northern Illinois in 2008.

“I believe that if you’re a police officer, you need all of the tools of the trade regardless of where you work,” said Bill Mayrose, the college’s campus police chief. “Our job is to serve and protect. Without a firearm, I can serve and sometimes protect.”

It comes down to situations where time is of the essence.

Once those shots ring out or there is a report of a gunman, it is the campus police officers on duty who are most likely to be the first to respond.

“It really does come down to the critical minutes between when the shooter ... starts and when that person is stopped,” GCC President Robert Pura said recently.

It’s those critical minutes that can make such a difference in how a particular incident may unfold.

The plan for arming campus police is not some hastily thought-out idea. Programs for outfitting campus police with firearms and training them to handle them are in place at many colleges and universities around the country, including the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. And the numbers are growing. Just last month, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy board of trustees voted to arm its police force.

They’re all motivated by a concern over safety and the ability to respond in a timely manner.

This is no knee-jerk reaction on the part of Pura and others at GCC. Instead, it is a proactive approach to wanting to be appropriately prepared in the event such a terrible occurrence was to take place. Mayrose has wanted to have an armed department since taking the job in 2006, but Pura and others have resisted the idea. But time and circumstances change and no one wants to be explaining why they weren’t prepared for the unthinkable.

We can all pray that a shooting never darkens the GCC campus. But if such an event did take place, we’d rather know that those first responders weren’t facing an armed intruder with nothing but a flashlight and a can of pepper spray.

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