On Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Princeton campus was placed on lockdown for ten minutes while officials investigated reports of an armed person. Thankfully, the armed man turned out to be an out-of-uniform police officer with a holstered firearm and badge escorting teens to the University Art Museum. Because Princeton is a world-renowned university, this incident made national news.
In February 2017, I wrote an op-ed for the Daily Princetonian imploring University officials to arm Princeton University Police (PUPD) Officers. This incident underscores how important that decision is. For 10 minutes, those on campus were in fear that an armed gunman was on the loose. And those that know the campus the best were unable to protect it. While a select few PUPD cops have access to long arms (e.g. rifles) in their vehicles, they do not have access to sidearms on their person. The closest cop to this incident may have been an unarmed police officer who would be prevented by PUPD policies (and from not being properly equipped) from engaging the gunman.
Since I graduated last spring and am no longer on campus, I do not know what specifically occurred. But I can only assume that a perimeter was set up by unarmed PUPD officers while they waited for an armed response from Princeton municipal cops (who do not have an internal knowledge of the campus – and are most likely not adequately staffed to provide police coverage to both Princeton University and the two Princeton municipalities they police) or PUPD supervisors with rifles. If this incident was in fact an active shooter and an unarmed PUPD cop happened to be in the vicinity, all they could do is take cover, report the shooter’s location over the radio, and watch helplessly as the gunman unloads bullet after bullet from his or her firearm. This goes against best practice guidelines which stress that “police officers must make contact with the suspect immediately to end the threat. Any delay in action may result in a loss of life.”
In response to my argument to arm PUPD, my colleagues at the Wilson School penned a response saying they do not believe the Princeton community would be any safer with a fully armed police department. Furthermore, they perpetrated the same false narrative that has been so prevalent over the past few years in our society – that minorities on campus would be at risk of being shot and killed by the police. According to a 2016 Washington Post police shooting database, out of 963 fatal shootings, 465 of those shot and killed by the police were white (48 percent), 233 black (24 percent), and 160 Hispanic (16.7 percent). And of those, 48 suspects (5 percent) were unarmed (and unarmed does not mean not dangerous, as anyone who has ever been in a fight for their lives with an unarmed person knows). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2011 (the most recent year that I could find statistics for), 62.9 million people interacted with police. 963 shootings out of 62.9 million interactions is a miniscule percentage.
In 2003, after considerable debate, Brown University chose to arm their police department. A report authored by Bill Bratton (the former two time New York City Police Commissioner, Boston and Los Angeles Police Chief) found that to “fight crime more effectively,” Brown University Police must be armed. Prior to arming their police department, the Brown University Police had a policy of disengagement, which meant that “Brown University Police were not available when members of the campus community needed them most.” Although I don’t have the statistics to support my claim, I don’t think enrollment suffered at Brown due to the arming decision. In fact, most people on their campus today probably don’t even remember a time that their police department was unarmed. And a quick Google search for the “shooting and killing of minorities” on Brown’s campus by Brown police turned up no results (however, there was one case of a Brown officer being fired for not following department policies when he handcuffed a student. However, no criminal charges or formal complaints were filed against the former officer).
PUPD officers are under the same “disengagement policy” that Brown officers were a decade and a half ago. If the WaWa was being robbed, a student was being sexually assaulted with a weapon outside of Frist, or an armed intruder was found inside a residential dorm, the closest trained and certified cop, a PUPD cop, would have to take a back seat until a Princeton municipal cop showed up - giving the perpetrator precious time to get away or for the crime to continue (even officers with long arms are not allowed to deploy their weapons unless there is an active shooter on campus and even then, it is only certain officers).
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck – unless it’s a PUPD cop. It may say police on their patch, the officers may go to a state certified police academy, have the power of arrest, carry ID cards that say “police officer,” and be represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, but if a crime with a weapon or active shooter happens – they must take a back seat.
For the safety of our students, our community, and our PUPD officers, it’s time we properly equip our cops with the tools necessary to do their jobs fully.
Ari L. Maas GS '17 is a law enforcement professional with over 14 years of experience. He has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Rutgers University and a J.D. from New York Law School, and is a licensed attorney in both New York and New Jersey. In 2017, he earned a Masters of Public Policy degree from the Woodrow Wilson School.