EDITORIAL: Brandeis Police should have guns
It is necessary for police officers in the United States to have firearms. Firearm possession is widespread in this country and our gun-murder rate is the highest in the world. If confronted by an armed criminal, officers need to have some means to protect themselves. The police officers who protect the students, faculty and staff at this University should not be excepted from this rule.Brandeis Public Safety officers are real police officers who receive the same training. Unlike many smaller colleges, the men and women who patrol this campus are not simply security guards; they do not wear polo shirts and drive cars with "Public Safety" written across the doors. Brandeis Public Safety officers wear the uniforms of police officers and drive cruisers with "police" written clearly on them. These officers are officers like any others, with the special distinction of protecting a college community of close to 5,000, rather than a town of similar size.
Issues specific to the situation of police officers at Brandeis also support their possessing firearms. Surely it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which gunplay might occur on this campus, but indeed it has. In 1989, two employees of Dining Services, a husband and wife in the process of divorcing, died in Usdan when the husband, a custodian, shot his wife, a cashier, and then himself in the middle of lunch. In 1996, a Roxbury man was shot in the leg outside a University-sanctioned event outside of Usdan. In situations such as these, our unarmed Public Safety officers, able to get on the scene in mere minutes, are powerless to intervene.
Such horrible events have not occurred in recent years, but even if we dismiss what happened as anomalies, the very day-to-day job of Public Safety puts our officers in danger as well. Public Safety maintains jurisdiction over all properties owned or rented by Brandeis, including the University president's home in Newton and other properties in Waltham. Public Safety officers may also be called in as backup by Waltham police and are in a position to arrest suspected criminals in Waltham as well. Police officers, including those employed by the University, should not be expected to pull over a suspicious vehicle, whether on South Street or on the peripheral road, without the ability to protect themselves. In responding to bomb threats and other threats as well, especially after 9/11, Public Safety officers need protection.
The Department of Public Safety has requested firearms in the past, and members of the University community have voiced various concerns. It is reasonable for students and their parents to worry about the introduction of guns to this campus. Students, when pressed with this question, have expressed concern about officers entering dorm rooms or breaking up parties with guns strapped to their belts. Others worry the atmosphere of the campus would change if officers were to carry guns.
Neither concern is sufficient to keep the officers who protect us unable to protect themselves. Officers on this campus, as anywhere, have been given extensive training on using and protecting their firearms in any and all situations. But if officers are given firearms, a responsible code would need to be developed by the University administration and Public Safety to ensure guns do not become a threatening or obtrusive appendage. It may be advisable that officers be instructed not to "walk a beat" around campus wearing their firearms on their belts and that they not enter dormitories with firearms unless the situation requires it. But certainly, officers patrolling the roads should be armed, and most importantly, officers at all times should at least have access to weapons.
Giving firearms to Public Safety officers would be a big step on this campus. A good deal of community education and discussion would be needed to properly introduce weapons. But if this were done correctly, those who protect our campus would finally have the tools necessary to do their jobs, and few students would ever notice the change.