January 16, 2013

Union Renews Call For University Officers To Carry Firearms

In the wake of the tragic shootings at a school in Newtown, Connecticut last month, gun control issues have made their way to the Princeton University campus. A petition by faculty members urging the University to divest its holdings in firms with ties to the production of firearms is set to be reviewed by the school’s Resources Committee next month. And the union that represents some of the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) officers has renewed a call that would allow them to carry guns.

As reported this week in The Daily Princetonian, the 17 sworn officers in the department do not carry firearms, but carry batons, pepper spray and handcuffs, and wear bulletproof vests. When an armed response is needed, the Princeton Police are called. While the University is considered to be a safe campus, there is still risk involved, DPS officer Michael Michalski, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Princeton Lodge No. 75, is quoted as saying. Mr. Michalski could not be reached Tuesday for further comment.

University spokesperson Martin  Mbugua said Tuesday that arming public safety officers with guns is not a step the school feels is needed. “The critical question is whether the Department of Public Safety has the necessary resources to deliver safety, timely and professionally, to the community. We believe the answer is yes,” he said. “We continuously monitor our circumstances. We have studied carefully the issue of arming on campus, and we have looked at what other institutions do. We have had conversations with law enforcement agencies. We have done a comprehensive review and we are satisfied with the plans we have in place with local law enforcement.”

In order for University public safety officers to carry guns, they would need to pass a qualification twice a year, the Daily Princetonian says, as well as regular training with firearms. This is standard practice for regular police, but public safety officers do not normally receive this training.

In 2010, the Princeton University student government formally recommended that public safety officers not carry guns after a survey showed that 56 percent of students opposed arming the police. The police union first petitioned the University administration in 2008 to reevaluate its policy of prohibiting officers from carrying firearms.

Since consolidation took effect January 1, the former Princeton Borough police have left their headquarters just off Nassau Street and joined their colleagues from what was formerly the Township at the municipal complex on Witherspoon Street. Some FOP members have expressed concern that the relocation puts officers further from campus, which could lengthen response time. But Mr. Mbugua said, “Consolidation makes it more efficient. You are contacting one department instead of two, depending on the location of the event. We look forward to a very good partnership with the local law enforcement.”