Rhode Island School of Design public safety officers will soon assume the power to search, detain and arrest criminal suspects on College Hill.
Legislation authorizing the change, signed into law this summer by Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14, grants RISD police the legal status of “peace officers,” a status currently held by state and local police as well as public safety officers at Brown, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island.
RISD officers must enroll at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy and pass training before assuming police powers. “None of our officers are sworn yet, so we are operating under the same guidelines as years previous,” said Jaime Marland, director of media relations at RISD.
Hilary Wang, a sophomore at RISD, said she was unaware of the change. She said she assumed the school’s public safety officers had no powers beyond asking for student identification cards.
“I didn’t even know Brown police could arrest,” said RISD junior Hillary Barton, who also had not heard of the law.
The bill does not authorize RISD officers to carry weapons. DPS officers have been armed since 2006.
RISD began pursuing peace officer eligibility several years ago, Marland said. The school’s urban campus necessitates a stronger public safety presence than would be required at schools in more isolated areas, she said.
The bill makes RISD police better equipped to deal with “routine quality of life issues” and improves partnerships with Brown and municipal police forces, Marland said.
Barton, who holds a “pretty positive” opinion of RISD public safety, said she is pleased with the peace officer designation. She said the knowledge that campus police can arrest would make her feel safer when traveling at night.
“A lot of students walk around with expensive equipment,” she said. “Sometimes they get harassed.”
But Wang said RISD public safety officers’ reputation for being strict when dealing with students makes her concerned that RISD police might overreach in using their new powers.
“It makes me more wary of the abuse that might happen,” she said.
RISD public safety records paint a picture of sporadic theft on RISD’s campus. Eleven burglaries, two motor vehicle thefts and one robbery were reported between 2008 and 2010.