The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled in favor of the University after reviewing a complaint filed on June 6 by Public Safety's Fraternal Orders of Police (FOP) union. OSHA closed the case on June 24 after ruling on June 20 that the University had complied with OSHA regulations.
The FOP’s complaint — filed anonymously by Public Safety FOP president and patrolman James Lanzi — alleged that the University’s policy of not allowing Public Safety officers to carry guns was an occupational hazard. Lanzi has been publicly pushing for the University to arm trained Public Safety officers since early 2008.
"It's a safety-and-health issue, a matter of our ability to respond to something — that's the basis for the complaint," Lanzi told the Times of Trenton earlier this week.
An informal complaint
The complaint was treated informally because the University did not meet the criteria for the on-site inspections conducted for formal complaints, OSHA spokeswoman Leni Uddyback-Fortson said. These criteria include the existence of a likely or imminent danger and previous OSHA citations, according to OSHA’s website.
"Basically, the complaint itself alleged that the University was not providing its 22 police officers with the necessary tools that would allow them to do their job safely," Uddyback-Fortson said. "OSHA treated this as an informal complaint, allowing the University five days to respond in writing whether the allegation was valid or invalid, and what OSHA found was that the University did provide the training and the personal protective equipment that was required by OSHA standards." Public Safety officers currently carry batons, handcuffs and OC — a substance similar to pepper spray — and wear bulletproof vests.
A June 19 letter submitted to OSHA by the University noted that “two state courts have considered this identical issue, and both have dismissed the complaints” on the grounds that OSHA has no specific standards for equipping employees with firearms as “personal protective equipment.”
The University’s letter was referring to similar complaints filed against the University of Wisconsin and the University of Northern Iowa, both of which were ultimately dismissed by state courts. The University went on to cite a Department of Justice survey stating that, as of 2004-05, only 30 percent of private colleges and universities nationwide with sworn police officers had armed public safety officers.
"For some colleges and universities, the right policy is to arm their public safety officers, but we believe that would not be the right policy for Princeton, at least for now," University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said in an interview.
University officials have said that, in the event an armed on-campus response is necessary, the Princeton Borough and Princeton Township police departments will be able to adequately handle the situation.
"When there is a need for an armed officer in a situation that is potentially violent, we work with the Borough or Township to have them respond; that is one of our unique characteristics with our location between two municipalities," Cliatt said.
Lanzi, however, noted in an interview that Public Safety officers have the advantage of being more familiar with the layout of the campus. "I think that it's a philosophical approach on the University. If you looked geographically, the Borough and the Township police do not know our buildings sufficiently to respond. It will take them more time to respond," he said. "Time is life."
Cliatt said the University believes it is fully compliant with all OSHA regulations and that arming Public Safety officers could harm the relationship between students and officers.
"The University's current policy is not to have armed Public Safety officers," Cliatt said. "The policy has been based on two principal factors: our location between, and cooperative relationship with, two municipal police departments, and a long tradition at Princeton of a supportive and respectful relationship between Public Safety officers and our students that we believe could be damaged by arming our Public Safety officers."
In a March 3 guest column, however, Lanzi said that Public Safety officers would not be able to adequately respond to an "active shooter situation" on campus, such as the recent tragedies at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech.
"Princeton's security plan eliminates an extremely valuable resource by not properly equipping University police officers with the necessary tools to protect themselves and the community," he wrote.
Lanzi told the Trenton Times that “there's a misconception that we just want weapons,” but that “we fully understand our role, and that is to be a campus public-safety department.”
"I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed. I don't think OSHA wanted to set any new legal grounds," Lanzi said of the ruling.
No further recommendations
Uddyback-Fortson also noted that, contrary to a report in the Trenton Times, OSHA had not made further recommendations to the University, and reiterated that the case was now closed.
"We did not recommend a campus-wide study," she said.
Cliatt also said there were no conditions attached to the dismissal of the complaint.
"Despite what was in the Trenton Times, our understanding was that it was an outright dismissal," Cliatt said.
Though Lanzi said he does not know what Public Safety's next steps will be, he said he believes the University should consider more seriously the possibility of arming Public Safety officers. "I don't know what Public Safety will do. We're going to encourage the University to have an open, serious dialogue," he explained. "Till now, the University has not had a serious review. Some of their responses are emotional responses. They have not done a professional or serious review."
Uddyback-Fortson noted that the FOP was not prohibited from filing another complaint.
"There's nothing that says that they can't file again," she said.