As the Rhode Island Board of Education prepares to vote on allowing public state universities the option to arm security officers with firearms at their meeting tonight, Community College of Rhode Island President Ray Di Pasquale says his officers will remain unarmed no matter the outcome.
“Things have changed, but for community colleges, I am not and have not been in favor of arming our police officers,” said Di Pasquale in a phone interview yesterday.
He cites three main reasons for keeping officers on CCRI’s four campuses unarmed. The first is that CCRI is considered to be a commuter campus.
“Here at CCRI, 99 percent of our students are Rhode Islanders and at the end of the day, they go home. At the University [of Rhode Island], for example, you have a mix of out-of-state students and international students. At the end of the day, they go to their residence hall. When they turn out the lights at night, [having armed officers] is a sense of security,” said Di Pasquale.
Secondly, he is unsure if having officers armed with firearms would truly make a difference in the event of an emergency.
“If a shooter is on the seventh floor and our officers are on the first, by the time they get to him, the damage has already been done,” said Di Pasquale.
Finally, Di Pasquale says CCRI has developed a close relationship with the local police departments in the four communities where campuses are located: Warwick, Lincoln, Newport and Providence. He also says the college has developed a great relationship with State Police.
“We feel confident if there was an incident, [police] could respond quick enough. I feel having our officers armed would not make a difference,” said Di Pasquale.
Di Pasquale did not come to this decision on his own. He hosted a series of town hall meetings at all four campuses to discuss campus security as a whole. Topics included the use of security cameras, lockdown situations and the potential to arm officers.
“In Rhode Island, not every campus is armed. Brown is. When it comes to [URI], many people are surprised they are not. On the other hand, when people find out CCRI is not armed, they are glad it’s not,” said Di Pasquale. “As I listen to people, I find [their opinion] depends on the setting.”
He added that even in informal focus groups, people agree with his perspective of keeping officers unarmed. Instead, CCRI officers will continue to carry mace and have radios to communicate with each other quickly.
Di Pasquale says he is a big supporter of increased officer visibility, including more officers patrolling or even mobile units.
“It gives everyone a sense of more security,” he said.
Di Pasquale says the Board is aware of CCRI’s decision to not arm officers with firearms, but as Commissioner of High Education, he understands that University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College are still considering the issue.
“I think URI is ready and moving towards it and RIC is considering it,” said Di Pasquale.
He says it is likely the two institutions are considering arming guards because they are considered residential campuses and have students to protect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In addition to being more residential, Di Pasquale said larger institutions have the added pressure of public events to protect. “On the campus of a major university, such as URI, you have facilities like the Ryan Center and other big events that draw large crowds,” said Di Pasquale.
Should the Board create this policy, Di Pasquale said there will still be work to do.
“You still need to do your due diligence on campus, check in with constituents, which in this case is students, faculty and staff, and make sure everyone is aware of the pros and cons,” said Di Paquale.
Although he will not change CCRI policy, Di Pasquale understands the need for this conversation and this policy at this time.
“It is just a scary time,” he said. “All over the country there are instances happening that we don’t even read about.”
Despite working on a New York campus for eight years that had armed officers, he looks at each situation individually.
“I look at each campus as to what’s best for each campus,” said Di Pasquale. “Our job is to protect students, faculty and staff that go here.”
When asked how armed guards on campuses could affect students and employees in terms of security or morale, Di Pasquale said it depends on the individual and the campus as a whole.
“Parents would often say [armed officers] gave them a sense of security. They looked at it like a police officer in a regular community,” said Di Pasquale, referencing his past experience. “A campus itself is often seen as a community of it’s own.”
He also said armed officers can serve as a deterrent since some people may be less likely to commit a crime if they see police with guns. However, he believes a sense of security may be the biggest draw.
“When you look at a four-year school, I think it gives parents and students more of a sense of security,” he said.
The Rhode Island House of Representatives was addressing Bill 6005, which would have given state colleges and universities the option to arm officers, but it was held for further study on May 9. Di Pasquale predicts that was done because it came out during House Judiciary testimony that the Board of Education would be addressing the same issue. Di Pasquale believes if the Board establishes a policy, the legislation would be unnecessary.