Local colleges may soon have to change campus security protocols to comply with two new measures passed by the Legislature, one allowing concealed carry of guns on campuses and another governing the transparency of police departments at private universities.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed into law SB 308, which requires campus police at private institutions to abide by state public information rules all police departments must follow in releasing records related to law enforcement activities.
The bill was crafted in response to incidents in which private campus police refused information requests about investigations, such as an off-campus incident in which Rice University police used batons to beat a suspect in a bicycle theft in 2013.
“I think if you’re going to have a police department, it should be transparent,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the bill’s author. “It shouldn’t interfere with the investigation, of course, but for public access you shouldn’t hide behind the fact that you’re private because, in fact, your department is sanctioned by the state of Texas, and your police officers are licensed by the state.”
Baylor University Police Chief Brad Wigtil deferred comment to university spokeswoman Lori Fogleman, who declined comment on how SB 308 will impact Baylor or the university’s current policies on releasing information on police investigations, saying in an email that the university is studying the bill.
Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the bill falls in line with a greater push nationally for transparency in police investigations, particularly involving use of force.
“I really think it’ll seldom be an issue, just because of the relative size of the universities,” Whitmire said. “I’m a strong supporter of law enforcment, but I just think if there’s an incident, and oftentimes it’s an unfortunate incident, they ought to be forthcoming. If they do things right, it shouldn’t concern them at all.”
The governor has pledged to give his signature to SB 11, the campus carry bill sponsored by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, whose district includes Waco. The bill allows concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons in campus facilities at public colleges and universities, though private institutions may opt out of the measure.
The bill does allow colleges to declare gun-free zones on campus and ban concealed weapons at sporting events, provisions added in a series of last-minute amendments before the bill’s passage during the weekend.
McLennan Community College President Johnette McKown said community colleges have until August 2017 to comply with the legislation, a more than two-year window that will allow MCC to more fully adopt policies for maintaining safety in the event that a significant number of students with concealed handgun licenses decide to carry weapons.
“We want to be fair, we want to follow the law,” McKown said. “We would’ve chosen and preferred not to have something else like this to deal with . . . but if that’s the law, that’s what we’re going to do and we’re just going to do a thorough job of reviewing this and making good decisions (for the campus).”
Eliska Smith, associate vice chancellor for Texas State Technical College, declined to discuss how the college is preparing for concealed carry and any safety concerns the transition may pose.
“Campus safety is a priority and the college will consult with students, staff and faculty before developing reasonable rules, regulations or provisions related to carrying of concealed handguns by licensed holders on TSTC campuses,” Smith said in an emailed statement.
Smith wrote in a follow-up email that it was too early to determine if each campus will develop its own regulations for concealed carry or if a common set of standards will be adopted for all 11 sites in the statewide system.
MCC Police Chief Larry Radke said the department will seek additional training for active-shooter situations to account for CHL holders who may draw their weapons in an attempt to take down a suspect.
“The identification part of that kind of concerns me,” Radke said. “Police officers don’t know who they are, and just that little bit of distraction could make a big difference.”
McKown said she would like to establish gun-free zones in areas on campus frequented by minors, such as dual-credit high school students who take classes or children enrolled at MCC’s child development center. The college will survey its students, faculty and staff for input on a gun policy.
“Particularly, some of the faculty have been very concerned,” McKown said. “They just think adding weapons in their classroom is not a good idea. . . . They don’t want to add anything that, in their minds, might affect the learning environment, which some people might have fear of knowing there could be weapons in the classroom.”
Concealed carry has had mixed opinions at Baylor, with about 120 faculty and staff signing a petition in February 2013 opposing Birdwell’s initial attempt to pass campus carry legislation, while more than 600 students signed a petition circulated by the Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas that year supporting the bill.
Baylor Student Senate last fall passed a resolution urging the administration to allow concealed carry, but it was vetoed by the student body president.
Fogleman declined to discuss whether Baylor will indeed utilize the exception for private universities in SB 11 to continue prohibiting concealed carry on campus.
But Fogleman in recent years repeatedly has said Baylor believes “permitting guns would introduce a new set of potential challenges to campus safety, and therefore we don’t believe guns on our campus are a good idea, generally.”
Baylor does allow CHL holders to store their weapons in their vehicles in accordance with a state law that went into effect in 2013.