Public Safety calls for guns
The union that represents 17 of the Department of Public Safety's sworn officers is renewing its call to allow its officers to carry guns, an effort they first began in 2008.
"Our current profile is that the University relies on the Princeton Police for armed response," DPS Executive Director Paul Ominsky said. Ominsky recognizes that Public Safety officers represent an "unarmed force," although he insists Princeton is a very safe campus.
In fact, Public Safety reported the lowest crime rate on campus in several years in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
Sworn DPS officers currently wear bulletproof vests and carry on their belts a baton, pepper spray and handcuffs. DPS also employs a number of unsworn officers who do not carry any sort of weapon and who wear white polo shirts rather than the blue police uniforms.
"There is an implied risk," said DPS officer Michael Michalski, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Princeton Lodge No. 75, the union that represents Public Safety. "That is why they mandate that we wear ballistic vests."
Michalski described a recent incident in which officers had to chase an intruder in one of the University graduate housing units. When they reached a dark basement, they called the local police for backup. "The locals came, and they had their guns out the whole time," he said.
According to Ominsky, his department is always thinking about the arming issue and monitoring current crime trends.
In the case of a shooting on campus, Public Safety officers are not expected to engage the shooter but to set up an outer perimeter and wait for the local police. But the representatives of the FOP said they do not consider this a safe option.
"If we do set up an outer perimeter and somebody with a gun comes out, we are unarmed," DPS officer Paul Proctor said. "Our perimeter will just keep moving back away from wherever someone armed is going."
However, in order for DPS officers to be armed, they would have to pass a qualification twice a year and receive regular training with firearms. This training is standard for regular policemen but no Public Safety officer currently receives this training. Although DPS holds the handguns of officers who still attend the Police Academy, they are kept secured and are not permitted for use by DPS officers on duty, Ominsky said.
University President Shirley Tilghman said she was not aware the FOP was again raising the issue of firearms, but said her position is that guns have no place in a community like Princetonís.
"We have in place a number of measures that will ensure that if there is a risk ... police can rapidly have the appropriate response without having our own police officers armed," Tilghman said.
Following the consolidation this month of the two Princeton police departments, FOP representatives said they were concerned the local policeís response time will be slowed. The new police station, at the site of the former Township police station, is roughly a mile away from the nearest point on campus.
Before consolidation, the Borough police could respond to calls from campus from their station just off Nassau Street. In addition, FOP members said they were concerned that some Township officers who have never monitored the main parts of campus — which lie in the Borough — will now be called upon to respond.
Ominsky, on the other hand, said consolidation will have positive effects, and will simplify the coordination of events, such as training. He did not share the concerns about the new location of the police station. "Police officers by their very nature are out in patrol," he noted. "So I think the location of the police station is not as relevant as one might think."
Police Chief David Dudeck did not respond to a request for comment.
"Has there ever been an incident when someone pulled a gun on us? Not yet," Michalski added. "We just donít want [administrators] to drive the University policy without at least driving an open dialogue about why we want firearms."