Refusing to arm the Department of Public Safety’s Sworn University Police Officers with handguns puts all students, faculty members, campus visitors, and Princeton residents at risk of becoming victims of a mass shooting like that in the recent Parkland, Fla. tragedy. Arming the University police officers with handguns is the only way to ensure that help could arrive in time during an active shooter incident, because every second counts.
In 2015 the University’s sworn police officers were given access to rifles in two theoretical situations: an active shooter incident and a hypothetical brandishing of a firearm on campus. However, these rifles are secured within sworn officers’ patrol cars. Sworn officers have the same powers as all other police officers in New Jersey, such as the power to arrest. The University employed 32 sworn officers as of late 2015, compared to its 65 non-sworn security officers.
This leads to several key issues. Namely, not all of those officers are guaranteed to have access to a patrol car — and therefore a rifle — during a shooting. Those who do have access to a car must spend precious time retrieving a secured rifle instead of engaging the assailant immediately with a holstered handgun.
Not all sworn police officers are patrolling campus with vehicles; some are using bicycles or are walking on foot. As stated on the Department of Public Safety website, officers on bicycles “have the speed and ability to respond to locations on campus, sometimes more efficiently and faster than a vehicle” and “it is also easier for a cyclist to ride into the courtyards on paths and areas that cars cannot access.” Those officers who do not have immediate access to a rifle could be the ones most capable of responding to a threat with speed. Without a handgun, those who could be our best defense against an armed intruder may have to stay out of the fight. However, even if an officer is assigned a patrol car, their weapon will not always be directly available in the event of a shooting. They would have to return to their vehicle to retrieve a secured rifle. This means the only officers who could immediately respond to a crisis are those driving their cars as the attack began.
Even then, they will have to spend several seconds unsecuring the rifle instead of facing the gunman. Any time delay in an active shooter incident can be deadly. While seconds may seem negligible, it is imperative that we recognize the devastating rate of fire for the AR-15, the weapon used in the Sandy Hook, Aurora, Parkland, and Pulse Nightclub shootings. The Pulse shooter managed to fire 24 rounds in 9 seconds. The danger is drastically heightened when the shooter uses a bump stock, a legal modification which effectively turns an AR-15 style rifle from semi-automatic to fully automatic. Using this modification, the Las Vegas shooter fired 90 rounds in 10 seconds. Each second it takes for University law enforcement to engage a shooter comes at the price of nine bullets hurtling toward those we care about. We cannot take such a risk with students’ lives.
There are legitimate concerns to be raised regarding giving our sworn officers’ handguns. One is the fear of police brutality, especially in light of recent high profile police killings of unarmed Black and Hispanic men. Several graduate students in the Woodrow Wilson School raised this concern in an op-ed in the Prince last February. But it is important to realize if one argues that a small, moderate or even overwhelmingly large percentage of police in America engage in misconduct, this premise does not guarantee the conclusion that Public Safety therefore engages or will engage in misconduct. The Department of Public Safety should be judged by its own conduct, not by that of police departments outside the control of the University. In fact, our high achieving department was awarded a CALEA Law Enforcement Accreditation in 2015.
Conversely, those who worry about becoming victims of police misconduct should actually want the Public Safety sworn officers to be armed with handguns. Under current procedures, the Princeton Police Department (PPD) will need to be called in to deal with an incident where a violent crime is being committed without a gun. The University has no control over PPD training but does have control over how Public Safety officers are trained. However, we can require many hours of cultural sensitivity and de-escalation training for our officers. We can give them additional training on how to deal with a suspect with a mental illness, or with one who is disabled. The University can go above and beyond the base training required by New Jersey law, but we cannot mandate the same for non-University law enforcement.
We should not have to worry when entering dining halls, classrooms, and larger auditoriums that our University is not prepared for the worst. Legislation is needed to stop the epidemic of gun violence in our country, but we cannot rely on Trenton and Washington, D.C., to take action in the future which we need in the present. We must protect our campus today. Leaving our community without proper security while we wait for help from a government that has historically been inefficient on the issue of gun violence is not a wise course of action. After the Parkland shooting, several arrests were made of attempted copycat shooters. We must let those who might wish to do our campus harm know that we are not a soft target where an untold number of lives could be taken before police intervention.
Harvard, Yale, Penn, Brown, and Cornell — the other schools in the Ivy League that possess their own campus police — have already made the choice to give their sworn officers handguns and effectively defend their campuses. To prevent an act of evil from happening at our University, we must give the brave men and women who risk their lives for us every day and night the tools they need to keep us and themselves safe.
Hunter Campbell is a sophomore from East Arlington, Ver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.