Campus police would not be able to return fire if a gunman attacked a school in the Maricopa County Community College District.
But that will soon change.
Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a bill into law on Monday — the same day a gunman massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech — that will prohibit any government body from telling state-certified police officers they can’t carry a gun.
Currently, district policy doesn’t allow certified officers who patrol Maricopa County community colleges to carry guns.
“We felt extremely vulnerable because we have gun instances all the time,” said Lynn Bray, acting director of security at Mesa Community College and a 20-year Mesa police officer. “I’ve taken concealed weapons off people all the time.”
On Friday, a possible gunman threatened to shoot up the campus’ gymnasium, police said. And on Tuesday, Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale was evacuated and closed following a shooting threat.
“If that would’ve happened here, all we can do is watch on our cameras and stand next to (Mesa police) and not have anything to do,” Bray said. “It’s quite ridiculous. Why hire police officers if you’re not going to give them the tools to do their job?”
Arming police officers is just one change coming to the community colleges.
Bray said MCC has spent the past six months implementing a phone system that can convert telephones into loudspeakers with the push of a button. Bray said the system could be activated to warn the campus of emergencies.
Within the next year, Bray said officials will also create a loudspeaker system for common areas and install electronic bulletin boards for the hearing impaired.
“While isolated acts of violence are rare, they cannot and should not be ignored,” district Chancellor Rufus Glasper wrote Monday in an e-mail to MCCCD staff. “These grievous events remind us that we must work together to enforce district safety policies on our campuses, pay attention to potential warning signs and work together as a community to remain safe.”
While Arizona State University does not have loudspeakers, James Hardina, commander of operations on the Tempe campus, said officials would use e-mail, television screens and police officers to notify students of a disaster.
“At ASU, you have to look at us as a little town,” Hardina said. “We use the same methods as a city, such as how they would notify the community that a tornado is coming.”
Hardina said ASU has had to mobilize for isolated incidents, such as robbery suspects fleeing onto campus and on-campus crimes. But in the case of a massacre, “we would blast the message every way to get to as many people as possible.”
Officials are also working on a system that would send cell phone text messages to students, Hardina said.
Also, the university is prepared for people to become “extra vigilant” in light of the Virginia Tech massacre.
ASU candlelight vigil
What: Honoring victims from Virginia Tech
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: ASU’s Hayden Lawn at the Tempe campus