As campus police officers were searching faculty and staff housing Dec. 16 after a report of a potentially dangerous intruder, a basement light went on and off. The unarmed officers had no choice but to stay back and call township police for support, the officers’ union says. No intruder was found.
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Princeton Lodge No. 75, which represents 17 campus police officers, has argued since 2008 that the University has failed to provide them with the tools necessary to keep the campus safe. After two knifepoint robberies on University property in October, the FOP has renewed its request to allow commissioned officers to carry guns. (The University also employs non-sworn security officers.)
“The University recognizes there’s a risk,” said Michael Michalski, president of the lodge. “They trust us with police powers, but they don’t trust us with firearms, and I’m not sure why that is.” Michalski said officers want to “drive a conversation that can educate our community” and would like to meet with the University’s trustees on the issue.
While the union argues that batons and pepper spray are not sufficient to protect the campus community, the University’s executive director of public safety, Paul Ominsky, takes a different view.
“The critical question is whether Public Safety has the necessary resources to deliver timely and professional safety and security services,” Ominsky said. “We believe the answer is yes.” Campus police officers “know what situations they can handle and when they need to call for local law-enforcement response,” he said, adding that the municipal police force is “readily available and accessible.” While the campus crime rate is very low, he said, the University monitors crime trends.
Among Princeton’s peers, campus police carry weapons at Brown, Yale, Penn, Harvard, Cornell, and MIT.
Some Princeton students said that arming officers is unnecessary. “I feel that increasing the number of guns is neither helpful nor conducive to a stable community,” said Emma Snyder ’15.
But Rahul Subramanian ’15 said there is no reason to keep sworn officers from carrying firearms. “They’re police officers,” Subramanian said. “They have a lot of trust on campus — letting them have guns makes sense.”
A 2010 survey by the Undergraduate Student Government found that 56 percent of students were opposed to allowing officers to carry firearms.
The USG’s new president, Shawon Jackson ’15, said that while campus security has not been discussed recently by the USG Senate, he hopes to hear more student views. “We want to make sure our campus environment is warm and welcoming, and that everyone is comfortable with the decisions that are being made,” he said.