In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, how safe is Rhode Island College?
By: George Bissell
The Buoy’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. A senseless act of violence, took the lives of 27 innocent people, 20 of them young children in the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history on Dec. 14.
Words cannot accurately describe the horrific nature of this tragedy. Many of the 20 children who were killed by the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, were five-years old. President Obama teared up while addressing the nation in a press conference yesterday.
This opinion is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever written for a couple reasons. I wrote entire paragraphs dealing with my personal thoughts about the tragedy but ended up erasing them. I broke down and cried at several points just thinking about how hard it must be for the parents to lose their children. I thought about this for a long time and decided that the only thing we can do going forward is to help the victims of this tragedy and their families and take a look at how we can prevent incidents like this from ever happening on our own campus, or at least be prepared to respond to them if the unthinkable does occur.
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, I couldn’t help but think, how safe is the Rhode Island College campus? For a bit of perspective here, I think I need to clarify that I love RIC and I am writing this opinion as a student and member of the college community that is asking the question, how safe is our campus if a similar tragedy involving an armed gunman were to occur, as someone who is trying to save lives in the event of a tragedy.
This is a sensitive topic. For a little historical perspective as well, I am not the first editor of a college media outlet on this campus to ask this question either. Some of you may be reading this thinking, its too soon to be talking about this type of issue. My response is similar to that of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who asked the question in the wake of the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide in Kansas City, when is the right time to talk about the issue of guns if we can’t talk about it after a tragedy involving guns? This is an important issue and one that needs to be discussed.
Last year, during my tenure as the Editor-in-Chief of The Anchor, RIC’s independent student newspaper, we ran a four part series called Examining Campus Crime, a four-part, in-depth series on campus safety at RIC. You can read all four online. Part I featured a review of Operation Safe Haven, an emergency response drill to test the campus’s emergency response systems in the event of an attack by a gunman on Oct. 21 last year. Part II analyzed crime rates at RIC compared to other higher education institutions in Rhode Island. Part III featured a profile piece on RIC Director of Security and Chief of Campus Police, Fred Ghio. Finally, in Part IV we delved into the prospect of arming campus police.
Since that four part series was published in The Anchor, there has been no other comprehensive evaluation of how safe our campus is by any student media outlet at the college. Last week, three vehicles were stolen from the residential student lot, only The Buoy reported it. The car thefts are the first incidents to occur on our campus in some time according to the statistics we reported last year. In Part II of the Examining Campus Crime series, Nicholas J. Lima wrote that “The Anchor’s review found that the safest campus in the state is actually Rhode Island College. In 2010, only 3 violent crimes were reported – two burglaries and one forcible sex offence.”
RIC is a safe campus, but what if the unthinkable were to occur, a scenario which was tested by the emergency response drill conducted by the college last fall, which was reported on in Part I of the Examining Campus Crime series. Here is a quick recap.
“The emergency response simulation featured 11 student actors and one retired police officer from RIEMA who played the role of the shooter. Campus Police responded on the scene within a minute, but were forced to wait for state and local law enforcement officers to arrive in order to take out the threat.”
“There was a 2-3 minute wait before local police arrived; there were 15 Providence police officers on the scene before the state police arrived due to traffic,” said Ghio.
“Of the three schools performing simulations, only UMass Dartmouth’s armed campus police engaged and took out the threat. RIC and URI relied on local police to take out the threat at their respective institutions.”
Two to three minutes is a long time to wait for Providence Police and State Police officers to arrive on the scene to take out an armed gunman. If you don’t believe me, stop what you are doing and count off two minutes out loud. Its an awfully long time when you are dealing with a gunman loose on campus.
“Two to three minutes in a gunfight is an eternity,” said Ghio when we talked to him about the emergency response drill in the Examining Campus Crime series last year.
Campus Police were on the scene in under a minute, but since they do not carry weapons, they were unable to take out the armed gunman and were forced to wait for Providence and State Police to arrive on the scene. In the interest of saving lives in the event that an armed gunman is loose on the RIC campus, this emergency response drill is evidence that the fastest way to eliminate the threat is by having armed campus police.
Part IV of The Anchor’s series generated the most controversy. When it comes to the polarizing issue of arming campus police, I understand and respect the opinion of those who believe that they should not be armed. That is your opinion and you are entitled to it. I just don’t agree with you that’s all.
I make my argument for arming campus police based on the evidence that myself and Nicholas J. Lima compiled while conducting the four part series last year. I entered the topic with an open mind and came to my conclusion after reporting on the emergency response drill and talking with people like Fred Ghio, who has been at RIC since 2006 after 26 years with the FBI. I trust his opinion when it comes to campus safety and he told us last year that he is in favor of arming Campus Police if done properly.
“Many conditions must be in place before we arm Campus Police,” said Ghio in Part IV of the Examining Campus Crime series. “Psychological testing, considerable firearms initial training and then frequent retraining to ensure that the officers remain proficient. The benefits (to arming Campus Police) are that my officers will have all the tools that they should have as sworn police officers. Right now they can make arrests, do searches and stop cars with probable cause, but do not carry weapons, which could be perceived as a safety issue for the officers.
“I feel that the main drawback is lack of future training,” he continued. “Due to the financial condition of Rhode Island, future training after qualification could be curtailed. Arming the officers does not improve their overall quality, but constant training and hiring competent individuals is the only way to ensure quality officers.
“My opinion on arming has always remained the same,” said Ghio. “If done properly with regard to testing, physical ability, state police training and with the support of the administration, Board of Governors, and the state legislature, then and only then should we go forward.”
If the unthinkable were to happen on this campus, I would like to know that Campus Police officers have the ability to keep us all safe. That’s all.