The University of Rhode Island on Monday announced it will begin arming its campus police officers.
The institution made the decision after an incident last year where an individual was reported to be armed inside the Chafee Social Science Center. It turned out to be a false alarm; no gun was found.
The university said its unarmed police officers responded to the scene within 40 seconds but had to wait outside for five minutes until armed South Kingstown police officers arrived.
"While we do not expect all members of the community to be in favor of this decision, it is time to recognize that there is no school, college or university that can consider itself immune to threats or violence," said Christina Valentino, vice president for administration and finance, in a statement. "We are committed to establishing the highest level of professionalism among the already seasoned police ranks."
Below is a news release from URI on its decision:
The University of Rhode Island announced today it would begin the comprehensive process to arm its campus police officers. The decision to arm campus police officers comes after a year-long campus discussion with faculty, students, staff and other stakeholders. Although arming has been considered over a period of years, a renewed effort to engage the campus in a broad-based discussion on arming was initiated after the Chafee Social Science Center incident last year.
“Our foremost priority is the safety and security of every member of our community and we have taken many steps over the past year to enhance campus safety,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “Campus-wide discussions have provided critical feedback. In order to provide the safest environment possible and to ensure a timely response to any threat to the safety of our campuses, our police officers must be equipped properly to function as first responders.”
All URI campus police officers are Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy graduates, and these are the officers who will be allowed to carry firearms upon successful completion of all the requirements and training.
The University’s Department of Public Safety will develop an implementation plan to outline the policies, procedures, training, and other initiatives necessary to proceed with an effective and appropriate implementation. Preparation for an armed University Police Department will include:▪ Intensive training on use-of-force policies and procedures; decision-making on firearm use in a variety of situations; and University Community Based Policing
▪ Substantive training and education on multicultural competency, mental illness awareness, and impartial police training.
▪ Additional psychological testing and background checks for eligible officers;
▪ Development of policies for review of all situations in which a firearm is drawn, pointed or discharged;
▪ Establishment of a URI Police Policy and Procedure Oversight Committee made up of faculty, staff, students and law enforcement.
“While we do not expect all members of the community to be in favor of this decision, it is time to recognize that there is no school, college or university that can consider itself immune to threats or violence. We are committed to establishing the highest level of professionalism among the already seasoned police ranks,” said Christina Valentino, vice president for administration and finance.
Prior to this decision, URI was the only public state university in the country with a police force in which officers did not carry firearms.
In April 2013, a report of an individual with a gun in the Chafee Social Science Center activated the campus-wide emergency response operations. While the police investigations concluded that there was no gun and the incident was never a threat to public safety, as part of the assessment, the arming of campus police was recommended as a way to improve the capabilities of the URI police as first responders to life-threatening emergency situations.
The gun scare incident brought a renewed focus to the fact that without firearms, URI police officers cannot respond directly to a threat of an active shooter. (URI police officers responded within 40 seconds of the time of the call for help to dispatch, but waited outside the building for 5 minutes until South Kingstown Police officers were on the scene. Since the tragedy at Columbine in 1999, the strategy is for police arriving at the scene of an active shooter to enter the building immediately and attempt to neutralize the threat.)
In May 2013, The Rhode Island Board of Education voted to allow each public institution of higher education to decide whether to arm its police department. Members of the University community were encouraged to inform themselves of the issues surrounding the arming of campus police officers and to participate in the four public sessions held in the fall 2013. A series of resources - reports and studies – were made available to the community.
The University has consulted with the State Police, the South Kingstown Police, Narragansett Police, and the R.I. Attorney General, all of whom have expressed support for arming URI police. The Rhode Island Police Chief’s Association issued a resolution in support of arming. The University has also consulted with Brown University officials who were involved in the decision to arm Brown campus police officers in 2002. A forum on the Brown experience with the process was presented at URI in September 2013.
While the four campuses of the University can be considered relatively safe and the overall crime rate would be comparable to a small city or town of 20,000 in population, serious crimes do occur and the URI police are responsible for responding to and investigating all crimes that happen on campus.
Background investigations and psychological testing will be required. Every police officer will receive firearms training administered by the R.I. State Police and be recertified in the use of non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray and collapsible baton. All officers will receive training in “shoot-don’t shoot” situations. A new Use of Force policy will be implemented which will conform to state and national standards.
All URI weapons-certified officers will be required to participate in multicultural competency training, recognizing mental illness training, and University community based policing.
The University will form a URI Police Policies and Procedures Oversight Committee to include faculty, staff, students and law enforcement professionals from URI, South Kingstown Police and the State Police. This committee will review all policies and procedures related to arming and the use of force, and all current training and required training for arming the URI Police.
Meetings will begin with the two current unions covering the collective bargaining agreements with the police officers to determine the best course of action for changing their job descriptions to include the carrying of firearms.
The arming of campus police is a part of an overall public safety strategy that focuses on integrating the philosophy of community policing. Officers seek the assistance of all the members of the URI community in solving problems and keeping the campuses safe. URI police officers strive to be involved with the community and stay visible and accessible with vehicle, foot and bicycle patrols.
The initial one time cost to arm campus police is estimated at $150,000, with ongoing annual costs estimated at about $23,000. The implementation plan will be made available to the campus community in May for review. It is anticipated that the implementation plan will begin in June and all elements will be completed for the start of the 2015 Spring semester. The Department of Public Safety will submit a department readiness report to the President for final issuance of firearms to the department at that time.
URI Police Department
The men and women of the University of Rhode Island Police Department work closely with the other divisions of the Department of Public Safety as well as other academic departments and Student Affairs.
URI Police Officers currently patrol as unarmed officers with full arrest powers. All URI officers are graduates of the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy and receive mandatory annual police training, but it has not included firearms training. Campus police officers investigate and prosecute crimes that occur on University property as well as traffic accidents and traffic related violations. They maintain patrols on the Kingston campus 24/7 and answer calls for service at the Narragansett Bay Campus as well as the W. Alton Jones campus. The Providence campus is manned by a University police lieutenant and one other Campus Police Officer who oversees ten security officers.