When University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing was charged with murder for the death of 43-year-old Samuel Dubose in late July, the public began to question whether campus police should be armed.
Tensing, who has been dismissed from his position as police officer, shot Dubose while he was driving near a traffic stop over a dispute about his license plate. According to the video taken by Tensing’s body camera, Dubose was unarmed and did not engage in any aggressive behavior.
According to a statement by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, IACP, Joe Deters, Hamilton County Prosecutor, said during a press conference regarding Dubose that university police officers should not be armed and should not be in the “policing business,” but rather let city police officers handle necessary situations.
However, the IACP stated it “strongly disagrees with these ill-informed comments” because campus police officers are trained for the sole purpose of protecting their campus community.
Jeffrey Christensen, chief of police at the University of Illinois Police Department, said he agrees with the IACP; the University police department has 65 sworn-in, armed officers who are equipped with pepper spray, tasers, batons and for deadly situations, firearms.
“It’s a necessity with the job,” Christensen said. “If we’re charged to protect the community, the reality is that in doing that duty, many times there is the potential for individuals to have weapons.”
Because there is always the chance individuals on campus may be carrying weapons, he said, it is the responsibility of trained and certified officials to make sure these individuals do not pose a threat to the students, faculty and staff at the University.
Christensen said he understands why there would be misgivings about the idea of campus police carrying weapons, considering there are so many students in the area. However, he said this is exactly why it is necessary for campus police to be armed.
“Our officers’ job — their passion — is to protect our students and they serve beyond the students, they serve the Champaign-Urbana community,” he said.
This “necessary evil,” as Christensen calls it, is a part of the operating system in a large number of university police departments in the country. According to the latest report concerning campus law enforcement by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 2011 to 2012, 75 percent of four-year public institutions used armed officers.
The 2011 to 2012 report also stated 95 percent of four-year public institutions with 2,500 or more students were equipped with a campus police department. In addition to armed officers, 96 percent of university police officers are allowed to use some sort of non lethal weapon, such as chemical or pepper spray.
These police officers, the report states, have a huge responsibility in just maintaining security for the universities. Patrick Connolly, chief of the Urbana Police Department, said he believes the first priority for police officers anywhere is safety, and University police officers are trained with special skills to ensure the security and protection of students.
“I can tell you the University of Illinois Police Department is an incredibly professionally, well trained organization,” Connolly said. “I think the current environment, with respect to the active shooter events, is something that would have to be considered if they ever decided to say that the University police weren’t able to be armed because those officers would be the first responders to address that issue.”
He also said the Urbana police department heavily relies on the University police department for duties such as patrolling the west side of the city and being available when the Urbana police officers are unable to handle certain situations.
Due to their important collaboration, Connolly said, it becomes necessary for the University to carry weapons.
Even though being armed can be dangerous, it all comes down to having proper training, said Urbana City Council Alderman Charlie Smyth, Ward 1.
Smyth is a former employee and graduate student of the University, and both of his sons also graduated from the University. As a parent, Smyth said he finds the University to be a safe environment, and he knows the police officers coordinate and work with the Urbana and Champaign police departments to guarantee that security.
Smyth said he doesn’t need anything more than properly trained police officers.
“They are a police department just like any other police department. So what it means is, it comes down to proper training,” Smyth said. “Proper training on the use of your weapons, proper training on handling the crisis intervention aspect of policing, the daily interactions, the training the police have for just interacting with people, I think those are all things that are very important.”
Christensen said campus police carrying weapons is a sad but necessary reality. He said when he first started working in the 1980s, it was less likely to that citizens would carry a weapon with deadly intentions, but today it happens more frequently.
“It’s a necessary evil because of societal issues,” Christensen said. “And because of where we are and where we’ve been that police officers in this country have to be armed.”