URI Report: Arm Campus Police

May 4, 2013

A preliminary review of the University of Rhode Island’s response to reports of a shooter on campus finds campus police were forced to wait five minutes before they could enter the building where the shooter was reportedly located. The officers, who are unarmed, had to wait for local police to arrive before they could enter the building.

The report says URI will ask the State Board of Education to allow the university to arm its police force. A bill now pending at the Statehouse would also allow state colleges and universities to arm campus police.

Rhode Island is currently the only state in the country that does not allow armed guards at state colleges. Although other states allow the practice, not every school chooses to arm its police force. Nationwide, at least 67 percent of universities employed armed police during the 2004-05 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Experts say the number of armed campus police forces has increased significantly since then.

The issue of arming campus police has come up several times in Rhode Island, but the state board overseeing colleges and universities has never acted to change state policy.

The situation may change in the wake of the incident involving reports of a gunman at URI’s Kingston campus. While the reports turned out to be a false alarm, the university is using the incident as an opportunity to review emergency procedures and renew calls for arming campus police.

In addition to armed police, the preliminary report on URI's response to the incident calls for improvements to emergency communications and cell phone service. It also addresses technical problems experienced by the university’s website, which was overloaded by people looking for information on the day of the false alarm.

URI president David Dooley has already raised the issue of arming campus police, and the new chair of the State Board of Education, Eva-Marie Mancuso has told RIPR she supports the move, although she believes it should be addressed by the Board of Education and not through legislation. The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has raised questions about whether more guns on campus will make students safer.