The Department of Public Safety recently announced that it will allow sworn officers to access rifles in case of an active shooter on campus. Under the University’s new policy, Public Safety officers would not carry firearms on them at all times. Instead, rifles would be kept in an armory and public safety cars and, only if there is an active shooter, be accessible by sworn Public Safety officers who have completed New Jersey State Police School. The Board applauds Public Safety’s decision as one that will make campus safer in the future.
While Princeton historically has had a low crime rate, the Board believes this policy change prudent in light of recent trends in school violence. The announcement comes in the wake of school shootings this month at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Northern Arizona University, and Texas Southern University. These incidents took place amid an alarming rise in school shootings over the past decade and a half. Last year, the FBI reported that there were an average of 16.4 school shootings per year between 2007 and 2013, compared to 6.4 shootings per year between 2000 and 2006. While the new policy is not a panacea, it will keep the Princeton community safer by improving emergency response time and effectiveness.
School shootings are unpredictable, and the results are tragic and devastating. It is the University’s responsibility to be prepared in these situations. Public Safety officers do not need weapons on a day to day basis, but they should be in a position to protect both themselves and the campus community in case of an emergency. Some students worry that students’ interactions with Public Safety officers will be significantly altered by the presence of firearms, but the policy change only affects active shooter situations. The rifles would not be visible or used at any other time.
The Board supports this policy because it will allow for a more rapid response to active shooter situations. Unlike off-campus police officers, Public Safety officers have an intimate knowledge of campus layout and buildings. This means that they may be able to respond to emergencies more quickly and safely than police officers who have never been on campus before. While off-campus police departments would also respond in the case of an active shooter, increased preparedness by Public Safety officers can only be an advantage in an emergency situation.
The Board has confidence in the Public Safety’s ability to respond properly in these situations. Sworn Public Safety officers go through a 26-week training program at the New Jersey State Police Academy, and they have the same qualifications as New Jersey police officers. Generally, active shooter training is completed by police departments once officers have been through the Police Department. The Board calls on the University to ensure that all sworn Public Safety officers regularly complete active shooter trainings so that they are able to respond in the best way possible.
Still, we should remember that allowing Public Safety to access rifles is only one step in a series of positive emergency response reforms. The Board believes that the University should also increase emergency preparedness by publicizing active shooter protocols for all students to follow, in line with proposals that we have advocated for in the past. Princeton students should be briefed on how to react depending on where they are.
It is unlikely that a school shooting will take place, but if that happens, it is imperative that Public Safety officers be able to take whichever steps next necessary to protect themselves and the campus community. The policy change regarding firearms is narrowly tailored, but could provide Public Safety officers with a life-saving resource in the event of a shooting.
Cydney Kim ‘17, Jeffrey Leibenhaut ‘16, Carolyn Liziewski ‘18, Ashley Reed ‘18, and Aditya Trivedi ‘16 abstained from the writing of this editorial
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.