The Statesman ran an article last week on the front page regarding Stony Brook University’s Police Department and its preparations for incidents like the possibility of an active shooter on campus.
According to the report, UPD has AR-15s and body armor in their arsenal. AR-15s come in many variations, but the most common version is a semi-automatic assault rifle similar in many ways to the M-16 assault rifle utilized by much of the United States’ armed forces from the Vietnam War until present day (although the rifle began to be phased out starting in 2010).
This may come as an alarm to some people; why would a campus police force need assault rifles after all? According to this year’s Clery Report (the federally mandated report on crime all college campuses must issue), there has not been a reported murder or manslaughter on Stony Brook’s main campus in the last three years and any weapon referrals have been for non-firearms.
Arming our police force with assault rifles may also make some wary, especially in light of the recent publicity police militarization and brutality has been getting. An NYPD officer choked and killed a 350 pound asthmatic man on Staten Island this past July in an arrest gone wrong that drew nationwide attention and outcry. Last year, Ohio State made national headlines for something other than NCAA violations or a marching band director who moonlights as a sexual predator when it was discovered the OSU Campus Police had purchased a 19-ton, IED-resistant armored truck.
The Ferguson, Miss. incident, in particular, comes to mind as well.
On Aug. 9 of this year, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male, was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer named Darren Wilson. The specifics of the incident are still unclear and forthcoming, but the reaction in Ferguson and nationwide has been one very much anti-police, partly because of the shooting itself, but also due in large part to the subsequent actions of the police. The police came out in force in order to deal with the protests and riots that occurred in the aftermath of the shooting. Over 150 arrests were made, tear gas canisters were launched at protesters and police in dystopian riot gear road atop armored cars more suitable for a Middle East war zone than a small town in Missouri.
The response was severe, but the protesters were not free from blame. Looting, vandalism and even firearm discharges were not unheard of, especially during the early days of the protests. Whether you support one side or the other or none at all, it is not unreasonable to be wary of the dark-masked, armor-clad police forces the world witnessed in action in Ferguson.
However, as far as The Statesman reporters can discern at this time, the Stony Brook University Police Department does not possess armored vehicles to the scale seen in Ferguson or at Ohio State. If all they have outside of standard policing equipment is an arsenal of assault rifles and body armor designated specifically for active shooter situations, I believe that not only is this policy acceptable, but that it should be encouraged.
We live on an open campus, meaning anyone can come and go as they wish. At night, the only security procedure in place to stop a vehicle is a gate that will be opened for anyone with a student ID. And there is little protocol in place to screen these IDs effectively. The gate guard simply looks at the ID without touching or scanning it before letting whoever is driving the car through the gate. Alumni IDs, simple forgeries, or a found ID (of which there are numerous; just look at the class Facebook pages) could all be used to achieve access in the nighttime hours. During the daytime, there is nothing to stop a car from driving on to campus and at all hours there are no procedures in place to prevent anyone from the general public to simply walk on to campus.
Bottom line: our campus is incredibly easy to get on to, even if you are a nonstudent, as long as you are willing.
There is an example of an abuse of Stony Brook’s open campus policy that I am sure comes to many people’s mind as they read this article. On Oct. 4 of this year, a man unaffiliated with Stony Brook in any way walked on to campus with a meat cleaver and a gun (albeit an unloaded one) and took his estranged girlfriend hostage in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building. No one was hurt and the woefully incompetent, wig-wearing lunatic was promptly apprehended, but nevertheless, the evidence is there: our campus is vulnerable.
God forbid there is ever an active shooter on our campus, but in the case that there is, at the very least I would feel safer knowing that our police department was aptly trained with the firepower necessary to bring down a trigger-happy nut. The alternative is something along the lines of a closed campus with Transportation Security Administration style checkpoints, which no one wants. And because they are putting themselves in harm’s way, I do not think anyone would, or could, complain that our police department have the proper protective gear.
Additionally, Stony Brook students are not notorious rioters and the University Police do not have a reputation of overreactions or unfairness, so it is highly unlikely this equipment would ever be used against students.
I know that having a bigger gun is not necessarily a deterrent against violence, especially when dealing with the kind of disturbed people who would go on a school shooting. Having the increased ability to stop a tragedy in its earliest stages while simultaneously protecting those who are willingly putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us is not a bad thing. It is necessary.