Those who advocate for arming Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers base their argument on the idea that guns will help them better serve the community.
Large swaths of the University community, however, have made clear that this manner of protection is unacceptable.
Two weeks ago, we gave the Security Commission’s recommendation a pass, albeit with some reservations.
But having attended several of University President Joel Seligman’s town hall meetings since then, and having heard many students, we cannot endorse this recommendation, and Seligman should acknowledge its shortcomings before making any decision.
At first glance, the introduction of guns onto the Medical Center campus feels like a good idea. If there is a demonstrated need, then why shouldn’t DPS officers be armed?
For one, the Security Commission’s report attempts to demonstrate the need for weapons by comparing UR to other collegiate institutions that have already armed their officers. But a lack of detail renders this hardly applicable to the unique circumstances of our own community.
Crime in Rochester is at a 25-year low. This is not noted in the recommendation, nor is context given for the data that is offered about weapons confiscated at the Medical Center. It seems improbable that city crime would decrease while crime on campus would increase, but the question goes unaddressed.
The prevalence of anecdotal evidence from all sides in this debate—especially that which comes from officers who don’t work on the Medical Center campus, and are therefore ineligible to be armed, under the current proposal—is deeply troubling.
And, finally, the sheer amount of resistance to the proposal should be indication enough that the University community is not ready for a change of this kind.
Regardless of where on campus they are deployed, this is not a safe environment in which to introduce guns.
A campus whose students may be unwilling to consider the safety of the officers they employ to protect their campus is not a safe environment in which to introduce guns.
A campus whose officers may be unwilling to consider the fear that guns instill, especially in students of color, is not a safe environment in which to introduce guns.
There are other viewpoints at stake, of course, beyond those of DPS officers and students. It would be callous, for example, to disregard the appeals of Strong Emergency Department staff who don’t currently feel safe in their work environment.
It’s easy to dismiss people as out of touch or overdramatic. The same cannot be said of data.
But the statistics presented in the Commission’s report do have their own problems—they’re largely drawn from sources within the campus safety industry, and fail to make crucial distinctions—in effect, misleading those who have placed their trust in the administration.
For instance, the section on confiscated weapons fails to draw any distinction between BB guns and actual firearms—despite the presence of one clearly identifiable BB gun in the photo evidence.The data on uses of deadly force by officers on other campuses is a jumble of incidents involving students, alumni, and unaffiliated persons, lumping officer shootings together with suicides and accidents.
Throughout the report, the data is poorly annotated or mislabeled, apparently not having been subject to careful proofreading. On page 17 alone, Connecticut’s postal abbreviation is mistakenly marked as “CN,” and Elizabeth State College is listed as being in South Carolina, when it is actually in North Carolina.
The repeated assurances that officers will only be armed at the Medical Center are technically correct, but leave out the recommendation that officers from the Medical Center should respond to situations on the River Campus.
These provisions make us doubt the assurances that armed officers would be limited to the Medical Center, where there’s—at least arguably—good reason for them to be armed. It makes sense that armed DPS officers would respond to an “emergency situation” on the River Campus, but what, exactly, is an “emergency situation?”
For these reasons, we now feel that the recommendation is seriously flawed. Seligman should certainly not accept the recommendation as it now stands, and it must be subjected to careful fact-checking if he is to consider it at all.
We do feel it is reasonable for a hospital to employ armed guards, and we are grateful for a Public Safety presence on campus.
We do not, however, feel that the Security Commission has addressed the question in a safe or even particularly effective way.
We strongly suggest that they reconsider their benchmarking methods and review the accuracy and presentation of the data in the report.
If the Security Commission does want to protect the community—and we believe it does—they need to consider the cost, in trust and in emotional security, of this particular plan.
Arming DPS officers will not necessarily de-escalate any situation—in fact, it has the potential to make things much worse.