University News

The Herald Poll: Support for arming generates little shock

By
Friday, February 17, 2006
This article is part of the series Herald Poll

The results of a Herald poll released last week – which revealed that 60 percent of students approved of the decision to arm Department of Public Safety police officers – did not surprise students and administrators.

Only 12 percent of students expressed strong disapproval of arming, while 18.7 percent somewhat disapproved. In contrast, 41.1 percent of respondents said they somewhat approved of the decision and 18.9 percent strongly approved. 9.3 percent expressed no opinion in the poll, which had a 4.6 percent margin of error.

The strong support contrasts markedly with the 56.1 percent of students who disapproved of arming in another Herald poll conducted in April 2003. 34.1 percent expressed approval in that poll, which had a 7 percent margin of error.

In December 2003, President Ruth Simmons informed the Brown community that the University had decided to arm DPS police officers. Soon after her announcement, the Arming Oversight Committee was formed to “ensure that the standards that were important to this community were met at each stage,” said David Greene, vice president for campus life and student services and a member of the committee. Early last month, licensed campus police officers began carrying firearms.

Several administrators on the committee, including Greene and Walter Hunter, vice president for administration, said they were not surprised by the results. “The more people learn about how careful and thorough the preparation has been, the more they are supportive of it,” Hunter said.

“Every concern the (Undergraduate Council of Students) had was considered very professionally by the arming committee,” said Michael Thompson ’07, chair of the council’s Communications Committee. “They were willing to listen to concerns of the student body,” he added.

Chief of Police Mark Porter expected the high support because “the University has listened to folks. “People had voiced their opinions and concerns, particularly when it came to policy and oversight,” Porter said.

Porter thought the 160 hours of training officers were required to undergo before last month’s arming was another reason many students supported the move. “These are some of the highest standards in the country in terms of training,” he said.

Hunter cited different possible reasons for the high rate of student approval. “One might have been in favor because of the shooting” – referring to a November incident in which shots were fired on the Main Green – “or the training or for some other reasons,” he said. Two DPS officers witnessed the shooting and saw the perpetrator flee, though they were prevented from pursuing him because of a disengagement policy previously adhered to by DPS officers.

“I don’t think it’s one particular thing (that led to high approval of arming), but certainly the recent shooting and the fact that the police couldn’t respond to that was one thing,” Thompson said.

Ward 1 City Councilman David Segal said he was not surprised by the results, though he did say it is “strange and counterintuitive” that more students approve of arming today than in 2003 despite the fact that Providence crime rates have declined in the past few years. “People aren’t able to make contextual analysis when they haven’t been here that long,” he said. Segal added that the arming of officers was “less abrupt of a transition” for students because many have been on campus since the decision was made in 2003.

Some students did not anticipate the poll’s results. “I was surprised it was that high, but I was pleased. I was expecting more of an outcry,” said Michael O’Mara ’07.

Ari Savitzsky ’06, a member of the Arming Oversight Committee, said he was surprised the results showed that such a clear majority of students approved of arming. “I thought it would be 50-50,” he said. Savitzsky added that Brown students were more comfortable with the idea of arming because the decision to arm officers was made a few years ago. “That’s why there’s no hardcore opposition,” he said.