Earlier this month, a student at the University of Chicago was shot in the shoulder by a campus police officer. Predictably, students, activists and community members held a demonstration following the incident calling for the disarmament of the University of Chicago Police Department.
They delivered a letter of demands to the president of the university and threatened to stop student and alumni donations until the university complied. This question is being raised not only on the University of Chicago’s campus, but also on USC’s: Should private campus police forces like the University’s Department of Public Safety be disarmed because some feel this would make students safer?
The answer: absolutely not.
The safety benefits of an armed campus force far outweigh the risk of injuring a student — a fact demonstrated by the University of Chicago itself. Furthermore, there is a demonstrable need for DPS to be armed on USC’s campus.
First of all, the shooting appears to be justified. Video footage depicts the student charging at the retreating officer with a metal pipe after being told to drop his weapon. The student has been charged with felony aggravated assault of a peace officer and two counts of felony criminal damage to property, according to Chicago police.
The shooting on the Chicago campus was also extremely rare. According to the Chicago Tribune, this shooting was the first by a university department officer in over 30 years, during which roughly half a million students attended the school. According to The Atlantic, the percentage of campuses using armed officers — both public and private — has increased from 68 percent to 75 percent since the 2004-05 school year. The number of students shot by university police in the last three decades is about two millionths of one percent (.000002). To make a statistical anomaly the rallying point for policy change is absurd.
There is no evidence that students would be safer if University of Chicago officers were disarmed. Likewise, with a campus three times the size of the University of Chicago and therefore prone to more cases of violent crime, USC would benefit from a trained police force that is well-prepared to respond to any threats of violence. Right now, most of USC DPS is equipped with tasers instead of guns.
When one considers USC’s geographical location, the need for an armed police force on campus is even more apparent. Over the last six months, there have been 289.5 crimes per 10,000 people in the University Park area — a crime rate higher than nearby Downtown, Pico-Union, Exposition Park, Historic South-Central and Adams-Normandie, per data from the Los Angeles Times. The higher crime rate in South L.A. when compared to the rest of Los Angeles necessitates an armed police force with a quick response time to adequately protect the mass of unarmed students.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 70 percent of colleges and universities operated full law enforcement agencies in 2012, and 94 percent of those officers were authorized to use a firearm. Our university is among them. The overwhelming majority of higher education institutions agree that an armed campus police force is an effective way to keep their students safe.
Though the chance that a campus police officer will injure a student is unlikely, it is still a legitimate concern for some. To address this apprehension, the University’s DPS requires all armed officers to pass an extensive screening process and background check, as well as graduate from the police academy. They must then complete a field training program before they can work alone. And DPS Chief John Thomas has recently added annual trainings to enhance the department’s professional skills and knowledge. These measures reduce the probability of accidents and instill trust in the department.
A well-trained, well-led campus police force is an effective means of protecting students, and the notion that they pose a danger to university students is unfounded. Arming the University’s police officers is not just beneficial — it’s necessary. Failing to do so would endanger more students, increase law enforcement response time and decrease protection in a neighborhood that needs it.