Univ. of Rhode Island police who responded to campus shooting scare were unarmed due to state’s anti-gun policy

Josiah Ryan
Contributing Reporter
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Campus police officers responded without firearms to multiple reports of a lone gunman at the University of Rhode Island (URI), on Thursday, due to a state policy that prohibits deputized campus police officers from carrying firearms on public campuses.

Campus Police at the University of Rhode Island were forced to respond to reports of a gunman unarmed on Thursday, due to state law.

URI police, who were the first to respond to panicked reports of a loose shooter in the school's Chaffee Hall, arrived at the building and began to create a perimeter using only paper spray and batons, according to URI police Major Stephen Baker and Community Relations Programming Officer Mark Chearino.

Local Kingston police arrived on the scene within five minutes but heavily armed state police were still arriving up until twenty minutes after the initial call sources told Campus Reform.

"State police were still arriving on the scene twenty minutes after the incident," Nina Microulis, who is a senior at URI said Friday. "State police led the charge – partly because they were armed – but I would not hesitate to say that the university police know our campus best.

"To me, it seems ridiculous that these officers aren't armed," she concluded.

Although no shooter was found after 2 1/2 hours of lockdown, the frenzied reports caused hundreds to flee resulting in minor injuries among students. Classes at URI were cancelled for the remainder of the day as a precautionary measure.

The regulation, which does not permit deputized police officers on public campuses to carry firearms, is held in place by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, a body of 11 volunteers who are appointed to terms by the governor.  

Rhode Island is currently the only state in the country that does not allow campus police on public institutions of higher education to carry firearms.  

Spokesman for the board of governors, Michael Trainor, told Campus Reform the body has studied the issue in the past and found, so far, no reason to change the policy.

“Historically they have never been armed,” he said. “The board has twice in the last four years have conducted studies and reviews but the board has not deemed it necessary to take action yet. As to whether it will look this issue again right now, that remains unknown.”

A spokeswoman for the current governor, Lincoln Chaffee (I), agreed there are no current plans for arming campus police.

“Simply more guns in the mix isn't a solution to violence on university and college campuses,” Christine Hunsinger, who is the communications director for Chaffee, told Campus Reform. “The governor is very opening to listening to both sides but it should be looked at as part of a whole solution…. We need to see what else can be done to make those places safe.”

Major Baker, who was among the first on the scene, told Campus Reform on Friday  it was difficult sending officers into a situation where they might have easily been outgunned by a single shooter.

"It weighs on your mind when you respond in cases like this," said Baker.  "We had five of our officers plus myself. I'm always concerned for their well being in a case like that."

But on campus, where the danger felt real Thursday, there seems to be a much different sentiment.

URI President David Dooley renewed his longstanding calls to arm police.

“I am on the record as supporting that move, and I continue to be, and I think that this will cause us to have a look at it with even more intensity,” he said.

Police Major Baker also expressed hopes that Thursday's frightening incident would be enough to convince state officials that the time had come to arm campus police.

"If this doesn't bring about change I don't know what will," said Baker.  "We should be beyond the debate situation by now.  We need to carry firearms and the issue should be 'how do we go about that before its too late?'"

In an interview with a local newspaper, the Westerly Sun, Chearino, the URI police officer, argued that to keep officers from carrying weapons was to make them too vulnerable.

“I’m gonna run and hide behind a car like everyone else, he said, referring to another lone-shooter situation. “I’m not Superman.”

“The administration has to recognize this is happening and can happen everywhere,” he added.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JosiahRyan

Josiah Ryan

Josiah Ryan

Contributing Reporter

Josiah Ryan is a contributing reporter for CampusReform.org and former director of communications for LI's Campus Leadership Program. 

Previously Josiah reported on the U.S. Senate for The Hill newspaper in Washington D.C. and was the cofounder of The Floor Action blog, a live-stream on policy, politics, and procedure in the upper chamber.

Josiah served as a reporter for the Jerusalem Post and JPOST TV in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he wrote on religion, culture, and the conflict.

Josiah is 2007 graduate of Hillsdale College. 

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