Sworn Department of Public Safety officers will have access to rifles in the event of emergency situations on campus, DPS Executive Director Paul Ominsky announced at the Council of the Princeton University Community meeting on Monday.
“The national best practices for responding to an active shooter have evolved,” Ominsky said. “It is now a law enforcement best practice to get an armed officer to the scene as quickly as possible to save lives.”
“Response time matters,” Ominsky said."Even a few minutes can make a difference to save a life."
Sworn DPS officers are trained in the New Jersey police academy for 26 weeks, the same institution as law enforcement officials serving in the Princeton Police Department. They also possess most of the same credentials as local police officers, including the power to arrest.
“Although we have a safe campus, and it is difficult to imagine a situation occurring at Princeton like an active shooter, we still need to plan, to prepare, and to train our staff,” Ominsky said.
The decision was reached in order to better ensure the safety of the University community, according to University spokesperson Martin Mbugua.Officers will not always be armed, but will be ready to arm themselves under the threat of an active shooter, Mbugua said.
Under current policy, an active shooter or a person brandishing a firearm on campus would require an armed response from the local Princeton Police Department. The DPS, in turn, is unarmed and provides a support function.
“DPS will not have access to rifles for any other purpose than to respond to an active shooter or someone brandishing a firearm,” Ominsky clarified. “Our priority is ensuring the safety of our students, our faculty and our staff.”
Though the University had been discussing the policy for several months, the announcement comes soon after shootings at Texas Southern University in Houston, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.
The new policy will be enacted in the coming months.
In 2008, the Fraternal Orders of Police, the labor union representing DPS officers, requested that sworn officers be allowed to bear guns in case of an active shooter situation on campus. Sworn officers at the time used bulletproof vests, batons, handcuffs and a substance comparable to pepper spray called OC.
The FOP filed a complaint that being unarmed posed an occupational hazard, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled against the union.
In 2013, the FOP renewed its calls for sworn officers to bear firearms, but then-University President Shirley Tilghman said guns had no place in a community like Princeton, according toaJanuary 2013article in TheDaily Princetonian.
"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 at the time.