University to arm campus police in Spring 2015
Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014
Updated: Thursday, April 17, 2014 10:04
When University of Rhode Island Police Officer Michael Novak arrived as a first responder to a call of a potential active shooter at Chafee Social Science Center last spring, he couldn’t do anything but wait. He was unarmed.
After a yearlong campus-wide discussion initiated by the gun scare in Chafee last spring, URI announced Monday that a comprehensive decision has been made to arm campus police. Previous to this decision, URI was the only state university in the country with an unarmed police force.
“All police officers should be armed,” Novak said. “How can we protect you if we cannot protect ourselves first? A classic case of that would be the shooter on campus scenario. If I arrive before any other police officer and I am unarmed what am I going to do? What if there was an actual shooter there and I was able to do nothing and something horrible happened to people? How would I feel about myself and what would I say to the parents of those students if anything bad happened to them? I’m a liability at that point instead of an asset to students.”
The decision to arm police was a “transparent, inclusive and open” one according to URI President David Dooley and recommendations from law enforcement officials, input from the student body, faculty and staff and community feelings were all taken into consideration.
“It’s a wise step,” Dooley said of the decision made earlier this week. “I think it’s prudent, it’s appropriate and it represents what institutions like URI and law enforcement agree is best practice, and that is to prepare your campus base force to be the first responders in the case of any emergency.”
As someone who has experienced first hand the ineffectuality of unarmed campus police officers in a emergency situation, Novak described experiencing feelings of frustration and concern while waiting for South Kingstown Police to arrive at Chafee to secure the area last spring and is a firm advocate for arming campus police.
In light of the gun scare, Dooley took campus security in a potential emergency situation seriously when making his decision to arm campus police and make them active first responders.
“I can understand how our officers felt,” Dooley said. “They have a responsibility, that they take very seriously, for the students. They are sworn to go in there and do everything they can to protect you and I know that they felt completely helpless in the face of that potential threat. I think that speaks to the larger issue…that it is important for our officers to be in a position where they can respond.”
All URI police officers are graduates of the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy and are trained to carry firearms before their graduation. URI’s Department of Public Safety will additionally develop a plan of policies, procedures and trainings police officers will have to complete before being armed, according to a release. URI’s police are currently expected to complete training and be armed by the start of the 2015 spring semester.
“I’m grateful that President Dooley has taken the initiative to arm the police here not only for my protection, but for the protection of the community as a whole,” Novak said. “In the short time he’s been here he’s done more for the university safety than any other president I’ve known of in the past.”
Due to the URI police force’s previous inability to secure events, armed South Kingstown police officers are frequently stationed at URI events, according to Dooley. South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia believes that the decision to arm URI police was the right one.
“I have been an advocate of arming campus police and fully support the concept,” Vespia said in a written statement to the Cigar. “They are trained, certified, professional police officers. They should be allowed to utilize a basic tool of our trade, the firearm. It is in the best interest of everyone in the campus community.”
Though there has been some opposition from students and community members who believe arming campus police is a unnecessary step, Dooley stands firm that the decision to provide URI police with firearms was the right one.
“We knew that there would be people who would not be in favor of this and some of them have expressed their disappointment in this decision in their continued belief that this is the wrong course for the university and I understand that and I appreciate it but we disagree ultimately,” Dooley said. “I think this is the right course for the university, I think it’s a necessary step for the university.”