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Police and Law Enforcement Home    >    Editorials    >    Princeton University, Arm Your Cops!


Police and
Law Enforcement News




Princeton University,
Arm Your Cops!
Police and Law Enforcement News
Tuesday, February 19, 2013  9:59 p.m.


The national debate on guns and gun ownership and gun control has, once again, raised the issue of whether police officers on college campuses should carry firearms.

And ground zero is New Jersey’s own Princeton University. 

They are sworn, academy trained, PTC certified police officers.  They write tickets, they settle disputes, and they make arrests.  They even have their own FOP Lodge.

But they do not carry guns.

Princeton University police officers are prohibited from carrying guns by rules established by University officials. 

This issue was discussed in a recent article in the Daily Princetonian newspaper.  Below is an excerpt from the article:

University President Shirley Tilghman said she was not aware the FOP was again raising the issue of firearms, but said her position is that guns have no place in a community like Princetonís.

The instinctual response from law enforcement types would be a colorful tirade on how a university president has as much right lending an opinion as to whether police officers should be armed as a police chief does planning out curriculum for an Ivy League school.

We're not going to do that.  There's too much yelling already.

But to President Tilghman we say, this is not about gun control; it is about public safety.

Allowing police officers to carry weapons is not acquiescing to the gun lobby.  It is fulfilling an obligation to protect those who work, study, and visit the Princeton campus.  It is having a law enforcement presence in place that is prepared to meet whatever challenges arise whether they be investigating a burglary, helping a despondent 20-year-old whose girlfriend just dumped him, or stopping a disturbed high school senior with a Princeton rejection letter in one hand and a Tec-9 in the other.

President Tilghman also told the Daily Princetonian:

We have in place a number of measures that will ensure that if there is a risk ... police can rapidly have the appropriate response without having our own police officers armed.

President Tilghman, speaking for just about every law enforcement officer who has undergone active shooter training, we can tell you that the shooter is about one thing: body count.  Every wasted moment is another life.

Those of us who do train for active shooter situations know that we no longer wait to establish a perimeter.  We no longer wait for two or three other officers before entering a school in diamond formation.  We are trained not to waste even a second.  

If this means running toward the sound of gunfire alone, we are going.  We are going because the shooter is about numbers.  We are going because the shooter is summarily killing children and teachers.

The measures that Princeton has in place, we're sure, were the result of much thought, and collaboration.  But they will most likely evaporate as soon as the gunfire begins.  They always do.

Should a shooting ever occur, the campus will be in complete chaos.  The sound of gunfire will ignite a wave of reports from faculty, staff, and students all describing the shots as having occurred outside their window or in their building. 

Hundreds of calls will go to 9-1-1, to non-emergent telephone lines in the Princeton Police Headquarters, and to the offices of school officials. There will be accounts of one lone gunman and accounts of multiple shooters.  Some will describe the suspect as an 18-year-old white kid with dusty blonde hair and shorts while others will relate the shooter as a black male in fatigues.

The conflicting reports will send University officers to the third floor of Fine Hall, to a locked office in the McCosh Center, and to "the grey building on Prospect Avenue."

Unable to sift through the overload of information, it will be Princeton's unarmed officers on the ground who will begin directing assets toward the sound of gunfire.  And to accomplish that, they will go toward the sound of gunfire.  They will go toward the gunfire with their pepper spray and their notebooks.

Meanwhile, every person on the campus will be hiding under a desk praying for an armed police officer to walk through the door and protect them.

And lost in a state of euphoria will be the shooter as he reloads fresh magazines and looks for new targets unimpeded by law enforcement.

After determining the location of the suspect, the article indicates that the campus police officers are expected to establish an "outer perimeter" and wait for officers from local departments.

To those officers who cringed after reading that last sentence, the same emotion was felt writing it.

That cannot be the plan.  It cannot be the plan. 

The only cops who will be able to get from Joline Hall to Bloomberg Hall without a map will be the ones who do it every day.  They know who belongs and who doesn't; they know which door doesn't work in a particular building, and they can respond to a madman mowing down people begging for their lives in seconds, not minutes.

The only way to ensure that armed officers from surrounding agencies are completely fluent with the geography of the campus is if they are to regularly tour the grounds by vehicle and by foot.  They are not going to disarm to do this, so you end up having armed officers on campus anyway.  Plus, they will stand out much more than the Princeton University officers who, by now, are part of the landscape.

If we have learned anything since that late morning rampage in Jefferson County, Colorado on April 20, 1999, it is that there will be more shootings in schools.  This is an inescapable fact. 

There will also be more shootings on college campuses.  This too is an inescapable fact.

Many municipal police departments are conducting active shooter training twice a year.  We train in empty schools over spring break and we train in full schools at a separate time, both with real weapons.  We do tabletop training, realistic scenario training, roll call training, and we send officers back to the police academies for additional schooling.  And our jurisdiction is a municipality, not a campus.

Campus agencies should be holding monthly training drills including everything listed above.  They should be utilizing force-on-force training with Airsoft or Simunition weapons.  They should be constantly planning and re-planning, training and re-training.

If a university is going to claim to be providing police protection for their campus community, they have an obligation to have police officers who are fully and regularly trained for an active shooter situation.

The University's Active Shooter Plan will the be the centerpiece of the investigation that will follow any active shooter incident as will the specific training given to both Princeton University officers and the officers from the surrounding towns. 

This plan will also be the first item listed on the discovery requests that will begin pouring in from attorneys in the aftermath of an active shooter incident.

When we hear that parts of the plan include terms like "outer perimeter," it scares us.  There are no more perimeters.  There is only, "Attack!"  There is only, "Stop him!" 

The outer perimeter approach was eliminated more than a decade ago.   It makes us question whether this plan conceived by law enforcers or educators.

Change at an institution as immersed in tradition as Princeton University is probably considered sacrilegious. 

But there are monsters in this world, monsters capable of destruction far beyond the comprehension of decent people.

President Tilghman, your cops are offering to confront these monsters should they ever visit.  Properly prepared and trained, they will make the danger go away or give their lives trying.  Please, give them the tools they need.









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