University of Rhode Island officials have announced they plan to arm campus police, despite vocal critics, who say the change will not make campus safer.
The university announced the decision after a year of public meetings and discussions with faculty, students and staff. In a statement, URI President David Dooley called the change critical.
"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,” Dooley said.
The decision comes after a high profile scare in April 2013, when a gunman was reported on URI's Kingston campus. The reports turned out to be false, and a subsequent investigation concluded that a student sounded the alarm after mishearing the remarks of another student.
But the scare added fuel to calls for arming campus police, in part, because it took police several minutes to respond, as un-armed campus officers were forced to wait for local police to arrive on the scene.
Last year, the board overseeing state colleges changed its policy, allowing each state institution to decide whether to arm its campus police officers.
URI officials say they remain committed to community policing, and will require campus police to complete additional training with the state police before they are allowed to carry guns. They will also undergo additional background checks and psychological testing.
"We are committed to establishing the highest level of professionalism among the already seasoned police ranks,” said Christina Valentino, URI vice president for administration and finance.
Critics of arming campus police say it is a misuse of taxpayer dollars at a public institution, and some members of URI's faculty union have argued that increasing the number of guns on campus only increases the likelihood of a violent confrontation.
In the past, URI has had issues with student drinking and partying, but gun-related incidents on the sprawling, rural campus are almost unheard of.
Some critics have also pointed out that militarizing campus police could have a negative impact on the officers' ability to forge friendly ties with students.
Rhode Island College has opted to keep its police force unarmed.