URI proceeds with plan to arm police force

Student Senate endorses act, but some question whether armed police will prevent campus violence

Contributing Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2014

The University of Rhode Island has begun to implement a plan to arm its police force, concluding a nearly two-and-a-half year process that was triggered by a false report of a gunman on campus.

Officers in the force are currently undergoing background checks, said Stephen Baker, URI director of public safety. Once these checks are completed, the officers will also be administered a psychological test and will receive firearm training, he added.

“The background check is a complete investigation,” Baker said, adding that officers’ financial, educational and criminal backgrounds are scrutinized.

Just over half of the checks had been completed, he said.

A progress report released by URI Wednesday confirmed that the background checks of officers will be completed by the end of this month. URI Psychological Services will conduct subsequent pscyhological testing, which includes a four-hour written examination and an interview, Baker said.

Firearm training for URI police officers at the Cranston Police Department is also slated for completion by this month’s end, according to the report.

The project began in response to a false report of an armed student in Chafee Hall in April 2013, Baker said. This was the third time URI had discussed arming campus police, having also considered it in 2002 and 2007, Baker said.

From April 2013 to 2014, URI hosted five community forums on the topic of arming campus police, Baker said. The process was an inclusive one, encompassing a range of opinions, he added. After the forums, the Rhode Island Board of Education made the decision to allow Rhode Island’s public universities to decide for themselves whether or not to arm their police, Baker said. URI decided to arm its police force, while Rhode Island College and Rhode Island Community College did not.

Others at URI have voiced dissent. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, a psychology professor and the director of the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, said he was concerned about further militarization of police. “Oftentimes, violent solutions lead to more violence,” he said. Bueno de Mesquita also cited previous instances of shooting tragedies at universities, including the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech, as proof that simply arming campus police is not an adequate solution. “In all of the campus shooting incidents, unfortunately, armed police have never really intervened in a way that could save lives,” he said.

Bueno de Mesquita added that the discussion surrounding arming officers distracts from the true problem. “The real issue is campus safety,” he said. “The constructive and productive discussions that need to happen have to address the real forms of violence on college campuses.” The largest percentage of violent crimes at universities are those of sexual violence, he said, adding that giving police officers guns does little to solve that issue.

But John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said he supports URI’s decision. “It’s hard for me to fathom why people wouldn’t want to let police officers carry guns,” he added.

Lott said public universities across the country should do more to protect themselves, including allowing students of age with permits to carry concealed weapons.

“Permit holders who are over 21 and are college age are at least as law-abiding as the general permit-holding population,” he said. “And the general permit-holding population is extremely law-abiding.”

The URI Student Senate, a representative body on campus, has come out in support of arming its police. The Senate outlined its approval in a recently approved opinion bill. “These additional resources will provide campus police with the adequate equipment necessary to become the URI emergency response plan,” the bill reads. The measure was passed by a vote of seven to three.

  • MaverickNH

    Worth noting that mass killers very often stop killing, and take their own lives, ONLY when armed police begin to converge on them. Their goal is to NOT be taken alive, as evidenced by very frequent suicide as sirens approach. KNOWING that campus police are unarmed, could only add to the body count. Brave people, often hailed as heroic in efforts to shield innocent students with their own bodies, usually die. It seems better that a “hero” earn that title from shooting the killer dead with a concealed carry firearm than by sacrificing themselves. Peace advocates may disagree…

    • rtc_MA

      …. the other name for “Peace Advocates” is VICTIMS!

  • rtc_MA

    ““The background check is a complete investigation,” Baker said, adding that officers’ financial, educational and criminal backgrounds are scrutinized.”

    Wait … you mean you hired campus “POLICE” and didn’t do background checks to begin with?