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URI develops plan to arm campus police officers

Last year’s gun scare at Chafee Center Building spurs final decision in long process

The University of Rhode Island announced its intent to arm its campus police officers April 14 following a year of school-wide discussion.

According to a statement released by URI President David Dooley, the URI Department of Public Safety is developing a plan to implement the arming process. This plan will include intensive training, background checks and a URI Police Policy and Procedure Oversight Committee. Additional details about the plan will be released to the URI community in May.

“Our foremost priority is the safety and security of every member of our community,” Dooley wrote in his letter. “To ensure a timely and effective emergency response, University police officers must function as our first responders and therefore must be equipped to carry out this responsibility.”

Dooley’s final decision was in accordance with recommendations made by the State Police, the South Kingston Police and R.I. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

The year-long, campus-wide discussion preceding Dooley’s choice was sparked in part by an incident involving an alleged gunman in the Chafee Social Science Center building last April that multiple news outlets reported as a genuine threat. The urgency of the decision-making process may have escalated in the aftermath of the Chafee Center incident, but URI was considering the arming of its police well before the incident, said David Lavallee, assistant director of communications at URI.

“A lot of the decision to arm police was made on the basis that the campus police were on the scene of this fake weapon instance in roughly two minutes, but they didn’t enter the building because they were unarmed,” said Dr. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, professor of psychology at URI, who said he supports university funding of non-violent training over arming officers. “The state police that were armed were there in about four-and-a-half minutes.”

Rhode Island residents with permits to carry concealed weapons may do so anywhere in the state as long as they are not intoxicated.

“Unfortunately, when you go and ban guns completely from areas, people with intentions to do bad things with guns will be less afraid to do those things,” said John Lott, president of Crime Prevention Research Center, who spoke at the Janus Forum’s  “Guns in America” forum on campus last spring.

Students and faculty members at URI have expressed mixed feelings on the matter, with some arguing that unarmed officers help maintain a non-violent campus environment.

“It’s a false belief that a police officer can intervene in a mass shooting situation, take out the shooter and save lives,” Bueno de Mesquita said. “We should really be examining what the violent threats to our student safety are.”

The most frequent violent crimes on URI campuses have been sexual assaults, not shootings, Bueno de Mesquita said. “A police officer carrying a gun does not address this problem.”

While some students and faculty members oppose Dooley’s decision, several experts say it’s imperative.

“Since 1950, with two exceptions, all the multiple-victim public shootings in the United States have taken place where guns are banned,” Lott said.

“There’s never been an instance in these recent mass shootings where the police actually intervened with their weapons and saved lives,” Bueno de Mesquita said. “If you look at Newtown or (Virginia Tech), the police never came and shot the shooter and the shooter killed himself.”

The URI procedure follows the process of arming Brown police officers that began in 2003 and continued with an outline of the initiative in 2006. The University’s plan included extensive training and testing of officers, the development of new policies on the use of force and the creation of new structures for oversight and review, said Mark Porter, Brown’s chief of police and director of public safety.

“I am very pleased with the URI president’s decision to move forward with their plans to arm their campus police officers,” Porter said. “I think the URI administration did a good job with having an inclusive plan for involving their campus community to have a full understanding of the issues surrounding campus safety.”


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