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1995-1996 index

Distributed December 15, 1995
Contact: Mark Nickel

A Statement from President Gregorian

Gregorian announces Brown's decision not to arm campus police officers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- In a memo delivered early this morning to employees of the University's Department of Police and Security Services, Brown President Vartan Gregorian announced his decision not to arm the University's police officers. Copies of Gregorian's memo were later inserted in mailboxes of students, faculty and staff.

Gregorian cited a number of factors that had become important during discussions with a broad cross-section of the campus community. One recurring theme was that members of the campus community currently feel relatively safe and are very appreciative of the professionalism and dedication of the Brown police and security personnel. The decision, Gregorian said, reflected an unwillingness of the community to commit itself to a major change in policy in a climate of uncertainty as to the effect of such a change on the broader community.

Gregorian's decision concludes a process that began in the fall of 1992, when the Campus Ad Hoc Committee on Safety, chaired by Professor William Risen, began studying the question. The Risen Committee made a number of recommendations for campus safety, all of which have been implemented, but did not recommend arming officers. It suggested that the University reexamine the question by March of 1994. That deadline was subsequently deferred. The Brown University Security Patrolpersons Association raised the issue again last summer, and the University administration committed itself to reaching a decision on the question. Gregorian had promised to announce his decision before students left for the winter break.

Brown's Department of Police and Security Services employs 21 licensed police officers (one chief, one captain, six sergeants, 13 officers), 18 security officers, 9 communications and dispatch personnel, and 10 building guards. The 21 police officers are fully trained and certified to carry firearms.

"It should be noted," Gregorian wrote, "that this decision is an administrative one and that the University, as always, must reserve the right to modify it as future circumstances may warrant."

The text of Gregorian's memo follows:

Office of the President
December 15, 1995

To: Members of the Department of Police and Security Services
From: Vartan Gregorian
Re: The Arming of Campus Police Officers

After careful review and a great deal of thought, I would like to convey to the members of the Department of Police and Security Services my decision that the University is not ready to arm our Campus Police Officers at this time. This decision does not signify a lack of confidence in our highly respected officer corps. It is, rather, a reflection of the widespread unwillingness on campus to see the University commit itself to a significant policy change in a climate of uncertainty as to its effects on the broader community.

As most of you are well aware, this complex issue has been subjected to review twice in recent years. The Campus Ad Hoc Committee on Safety, chaired by Professor William Risen, studied the matter at length during the fall semester of 1992 and recommended in its December report that the University not arm but re-examine the matter by March 1994. That deadline was subsequently deferred, and the issue arose once again last summer when the Brown University Security Patrolpersons Association voiced grave concerns about their ability to adequately protect the members of the community, as well as themselves, in their present unarmed condition.

Since July 1995 my administration has conducted a wide review of this issue, involving faculty, staff and students. We have gathered relevant information from other institutions of higher learning in the northeast and from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. We have held discussions with Undergraduate and Graduate student representatives and with other student leaders, with the Faculty Executive Committee, the Campus Community/Police and Security Committee, with the Campus Minority Affairs Committee, and with members of the Brown Corporation. These discussions have been reasoned, forthright, collegial and constructive.

It is clear from this review that a great deal of ambivalence, highly personal opinions, and serious concerns, pro and con, exist in regard to this issue. Some see arming as inevitable; others refuse to consider it, ever. The recent decline in campus, city, and national crime statistics was cited by many as evidence that arming is not necessary. Others felt that the significance of the short-term decline is overstated and that the statistics for the last decade depict an overwhelming increase in crimes in general as well as an increase in the presence of deadly weapons and the percentage of crimes of violence, all of which serve to justify arming.

One recurring theme in the views expressed on this matter is that members of the Brown community currently feel relatively safe on the University campus. This is a resounding tribute to the efforts of our officers to make our environment safe, and I find it particularly gratifying that the community is appreciative of the professionalism and personal dedication consistently shown by the personnel of the Department of Police and Security Services. Both skeptics and supporters praised the progress made in recent years by our officers to increase their visibility and overall effectiveness and to build trust with all community groups and constituencies.

Another recurring theme that was expressed had to do with the difference between Campus Police Officers and Security Officers. The inability of many persons to distinguish between the two was a critical problem in that Campus Police Officers are fully trained at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy and are qualified to carry arms and make arrests, while Security Officers are not required to undergo such training. Thus there was a mistaken public perception regarding the total number of officers who would bear arms and the number of armed officers who would be on duty at any given time, which would have been limited to two to four individuals.

Many persons who are perfectly comfortable with and supporters of the presence of armed police in the communities where they live cannot reconcile the idea of armed police with their concept of a university as a sanctuary from society's ills. This appeared to be the case regardless of socio-economic background. The tendency to oppose or promote change on the basis of a cherished ideal is an understandable one and can be particularly evident in a university.

A concern heard from some members of the community was that although an armed presence might have deterrent value for lesser crimes, such an advantage might well be more than offset by an increase in the most serious crimes - specifically that the most dangerous criminals would not be deterred at all and that armed confrontations might result, or that a criminal coming on campus who would otherwise remain unarmed might arm himself in the expectation of dealing with an armed police force. The individuals and groups expressing opinions in this regard were mindful of the fact that, while many colleges and universities in the northeast have an armed police force, all Rhode Island institutions and half of all Ivy League schools (Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton, as well as Brown) remain unarmed. The security departments of Columbia and Dartmouth ... do not employ fully qualified police officers, utilizing security officers only. [In Rhode Island, Brown, URI, Rhode Island College, and the Community College of Rhode Island employ fully licensed police officers.]

It is an unfortunate reality that no compelling evidence appears to be available to confirm or refute assertions on either side of this issue, and we should bear in mind that we may never have the benefit of certainty in considering it. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this decision is an administrative one and that the University, as always, must reserve the right to modify it as future circumstances may warrant.

Finally, I would like to extend my personal thanks to our Campus Police Officers, our Security Officers, our Building Guards, our Communications Officers, and to all support staff of the Department of Police and Security Services. They deserve our gratitude for their dedication to a profession which constantly requires them to protect the safety of others before their own, and the many selfless acts by our officers in hazardous situations seen over the years place us deeply in their debt.