Boston student horrified over decision to arm campus police

A student at Northeastern University in Boston was shocked to discover recently that her school’s campus police would soon begin carrying semi-automatic rifles in their vehicles.

“Great, now everyone in Boston knows that our officers are carrying semiautomatic [sic] rifles in their cruisers,” Cassandra Hebert writes in Teen Vogue, challenging the appropriateness of attempting “to mold NUPD officers into a SWAT-level team with these new weapons.”

Hebert begins by complaining that the plan to arm campus cops, which the department implemented in December, was devised without any “community dialogue” or student input.

“Northeastern’s buildings and roads interweave with public space in Boston and Roxbury,” she points out. “We are not secluded in our own area; different neighborhoods, as well as other schools, are right in our backyard, and we are right in theirs.”

Citing a Boston Globe article on the matter, she laments that students were not even informed when Boston Police Commissioner William Evans objected to the plan after first learning of it in November, and that the school decided to implement the new policy despite the BPD’s opposition.

“We live here. We deserve to use our voices for discussion, not only for outrage,” Hebert declares. “How are we supposed to feel when the city’s police force blatantly opposes the policy?”

She also grumbles that NU did not provide a direct explanation of the policy to students until well after it had been reported in the news media, and that even then the school relied primarily on an interview with NUPD Chief Michael Davis that she describes as “ostensibly intended to save face and appease parents who are states and countries away” with softball questions.

In the interview, Davis explains that the decision to arm a specially-trained “instant containment team” was intended to help the department respond to, and if possible prevent, a potential active shooter event on or near campus.

“Quite frankly, with my back­ground, being from a munic­i­pality where I ran an orga­ni­za­tion that had a full-service SWAT team—com­plete with nego­tia­tors and what I would say was the best-performing SWAT team in the state of Min­nesota—I would not field a team that was under-equipped or unprepared,” Davis promised.

Hebert does concede that she was “relieved to hear [Davis] has so much experience,” but nonetheless frets, despite his assurances to the contrary, that “his expertise will not transfer to his team within the course of a month, when officers will start to be armed.”

At the same time, she also argues that the officers’ training should be primarily focused on “detecting danger before any guns are drawn,” rather than actually using the weapons.

“That is what he is saying the guns are for—preventative action,” she states, disregarding Davis’ assertion that the team is primarily trained to respond to incidents. “Students don’t want a safety team that uses the fear weapons provoke as the primary way to prevent mass shooting, because guns won’t teach them how to identify shooters.”

Moreover, Hebert contends that the very existence of an armed NUPD instant containment team could actually make students less safe in the event of a shooting, because the “BPD and the city [are] worried and concerned” about the notion, and “in a mass shooting, tension is the last thing that will make us safe.”

She then takes issue with Davis’ comment that the firearms “will probably never see the light of day,” questioning whether the university should be spending its resources on firearms rather than addressing internal improvements, despite the fact that Davis has also made clear that NUPD has had the weapons in its possession for years, and merely decided to begin deploying them recently.

“If mass shootings really are linked to mental health problems, like they are often said to be, then why wouldn’t the administration provide more support for mental health services on campus?” she asks, complaining that officials have instead “decided to combat a mass shooting epidemic with militarization—a true arms race.”

Hebert concludes by dismissing the “hackneyed” argument that it is better to be safe than sorry, which supporters of the policy have trotted out in its defense, countering that “depriving positive, meaningful university groups and academic resources of funding by handing out semiautomatic [sic] rifles to campus cops, without the city’s blessing, is anything but safe.”

For his part, Davis has said that while he understands that some people will have concerns about the new policy, “I'm also the person responsible for the safety and security of this campus … [and] my primary concern is what we are doing to make sure we are prepared,” adding that whereas local police say they can be on campus within five or six minutes, “we can respond really, really quickly to any emergency on this campus, because we are here.”

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