The discussion of whether Campus Police should be armed is back in the limelight. Earlier this month, State Rep. William O’Brien (D-Dist. 54) reintroduced legislation that would mandate RIC and CCRI to arm their campus police.
“This bill is about nothing more than the safety and protection of the students, faculty, and staff at our public colleges,” O’Brien said about the bill in a statement. “I know this is a difficult topic for some to discuss, but in a world of active shooters and terrible tragedies determined by seconds and minutes, it is completely irresponsible for us to fail our students and staff by having to rely on off-campus law enforcement if the worst-case scenario should happen on our public campuses. I’ve been told that the response time to RIC if an active shooting situation [were] to happen is 5 minutes and frankly, that is way too much time for death and destruction to occur. Our campuses need a faster response and the only solution is armed campus cops.”
Currently, the only other colleges in Rhode Island who arm their police officers are Brown University and the University of Rhode Island. URI started to begin the process of implementing their policy in 2014 following a false alarm in 2013 of an individual on campus carrying a firearm.
If the bill is signed into law, campus police officers would need to complete a course on firearm instruction. Campus Police would also be added to the list of officers that fall under Rhode Island’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
This legislation was introduced before by O’Brien in the 2020 legislative session. During that time, RIC showed reluctance to the idea, citing how much it would cost to train and arm their police officers.
The college isn't taking a formal position currently, but cited a few issues with the bill, telling The Anchor in a statement, “While we appreciate the support and consideration of our legislative leaders who are advancing this bill, the college is not taking a position on the current legislation. There are significant issues of funding, training, education, and outreach related to this specific legislative proposal that would need to be addressed before we take a position.”
The college added that RIC’s police officers are, “thoroughly trained in non-lethal force, use of handcuffs, and oleoresin capsicum spray.”
In response to the issues RIC raised in their official statement, O’Brien said, “I understand RIC’s concerns and am very sensitive to them. I’d like to note that the legislation would take effect October 1, which gives colleges ample time to prepare their trained officers to meet the requirements of this legislation. RIC’s campus security officers are all trained officers already who have been through the municipal police academy (a 20-week program), on average have 30 years of experience, and also undergo additional training annually.”
The last time this topic was discussed at-length on campus, it resulted in a chaotic Student Community Government parliament meeting on March 28 2018. Concerns raised back then, and during that meeting are still present by those who do not favor the idea of arming campus police.
O’Brien told The Anchor he has taken those concerns into consideration saying, “I have taken these concerns into consideration, and my primary concern is the safety of all students and staff.”
As to where student leaders in SCG stand on this bill, Vice President Asley Corrales wants there to be student input first, saying, “In my opinion, before making any decisions to make things legal and mandated, there should be an open forum of some kind for students from this college and the Community College of Rhode Island to voice their views about this new prospective law pass. So, what does arming campus police entail? Will they be able to freely stroll across campus with their armed devices? How much training will they receive? How do we ensure that students feel protected if we don't initially ask them? That is my personal viewpoint. What do the students want? If you are a student who has an opinion about this, please express it by telling the college and State of Rhode Island. Every student's voice is important, therefore ask first, and the answer will be there.”
SCG President James Torres also explained his stance on the bill.
He said, “I think it is a good thing that they will be arming the Police on campuses. My only concern is the hiring process, who will be deemed viable for the position? I believe that a thorough background and mental health background check should be applied to whoever is allowed to carry. I also believe that if they are allowed to carry that they must have weekly or bi-weekly training/drills on escalation of force. I know that a shoot or don't shoot situation happens in an instant, therefore I would ask that they also have some sort of training on how to conduct themselves while open carrying. As in training on how to not look imposing or threatening when there isn't a hostile situation. I would also feel more comfortable if they were trained by either the Rhode Island Army National Guard and/or the RI State Police as their standards for excellence are higher than local Law Enforcement.”
O’Brien told The Anchor he hasn’t spoken to House Speaker Joe Shekarchi about the bill. One of the legislation’s cosponsors is House Judiciary Chairman, Robert Craven Sr.
At the time of publication, this bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.