Northeastern University became the fifth Boston-area university to allow its campus police officers to work with semiautomatic rifles last December, following a similar policy that has been in place at Tufts since 2008.
According to Deputy Director of Public Safety Leon Romprey, all sworn Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) officers have been trained to use semiautomatic rifles, also known as patrol rifles, to be deployed when needed. He explained that necessary situations for their use include those where deadly force is being used with the intent to injure or kill. TUPD officers have never had to deploy patrol rifles in response to a real situation before, he said.
The decision to arm TUPD officers with patrol rifles was made in 2008 in response to the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, Romprey said. During the Virginia Tech incident, a single shooter killed 32 people, according to April 13 CNN article.
“We think it is critically important to be prepared to respond and to save lives when deadly force is being used against members of our community,” Romprey told the Daily in an email.
According to Deputy Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins, TUPD works regularly with state and municipal law enforcement agencies to best utilize their patrol rifles. All TUPD officers receive active shooter training twice a year, he said.
Last summer, TUPD officers underwent an active shooter drill termed “Spartan Shield” with the Massachusetts State Police, the police departments of Medford and Somerville and several other public safety organizations, according to Collins.
“[Tufts] involves appropriate local and state agencies in emergency preparedness planning and training exercises in order to best provide for the safety and security of its community,” Collins wrote to the Daily in an email.
Lieutenant Paul Covino of the Medford Police Department echoed this sentiment, stating that TUPD follows standard training guidelines and works well with Medford police. He agreed that patrol rifles are important tools to respond to an emergency quickly.
“Given the dynamic of the crimes that are going on in the world these days, they’re a necessary instrument to have,” Covino said.
Several other Boston-area campus police departments, such Boston University’s police, have patrol rifles, but their strategies vary in scope, according to a Dec. 8 WGBH News article. While TUPD trains every officer in the use of semiautomatic rifles, Northeastern’s police department plans to train only 20 of its 65 officers to respond to active shooter scenarios, according to Northeastern University Director of Communications Matthew McDonald.
“Like other universities with police departments, [Northeastern’s] officers are trained to employ a number of capabilities to protect the campus community, including the use of tactical rifles if necessary,” McDonald told the Daily in an email.
Although TUPD has patrol rifles available for deployment at any time, the police departments from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) keep patrol rifles in their police cruisers at all times, according to a Dec. 9 Boston Globe article.
Boston-area colleges are not alone in their decision to arm their officers with patrol rifles. According to a Dec. 10 article from Inside Higher Ed, over 60 other campus police departments in the United States own “military-style tactical rifles.” A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that 75 percent of four-year colleges with more than 2,500 students utilized armed officers in 2012, an increase of seven percent since 2004.
However, Northeastern’s decision generated controversy from students, the Boston Police Department (BPD) and community members.
An online petition asking Northeastern to reconsider its decision has attained 7,400 signatures at press time. In addition, about 60 Northeastern faculty members signed a letter of opposition addressed to the university’s president, according to a Dec. 11 Boston Globe article. Both petitions claim that patrol rifles are unnecessary, risk-laden and could serve to make the Northeastern campus feel less safe.
BPD commissioner Bill Evans told WGBH that the officers from BPD can respond to an active shooter on the Northeastern campus within minutes, since the area is under the department’s jurisdiction, making armed campus officers excessive.
Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, told the Boston Globe that he is also opposed to Northeastern’s plan.
“I could understand if the college was in a rural area, a remote place, but it’s right in the middle of the city,” Brown said. “We have a police department, and they’re quite capable of handling these incidents should they occur.”
However, Michael Davis, Northeastern University Police Department Chief of Police, was quoted in the WGBH article saying that these weapons can help the police respond quickly in an emergency. According to a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, 70 percent of active shooter incidents in the study ended in five minutes or less.
Davis explained in an interview published on the Northeastern website that campus police officers are well-trained and that their familiarity with the campus makes them better able to respond to incidents than neighboring police departments.
“Of course we are surrounded by a huge public safety infrastructure, and we work well with Boston in that regard, but we are here on campus and we need to be prepared,” Davis said in in the interview.
Romprey said that patrol rifles are important to TUPD’s ability to respond to emergencies.
“Unfortunately, universities and colleges throughout the world are not immune to these types of incidents, and history reveals that they do occur,” Romprey said. “TUPD, as a full-service police department, must be prepared to deal with these types of incidents.”