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UR weighs proposal to arm more officers

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By March 27, an ad hoc University of Rochester committee is expected to make its recommendations on the UR Department of Public Safety's proposal to arm more of its campus peace officers. The committee includes student, staff, and faculty representatives.

The department first submitted the proposal to UR's Public Safety Review Board last May, but the ad hoc committee was formed after vocal opposition from campus groups, particularly the Minority Students' Association Board.

The university's public safety department already has 49 armed peace officers who are assigned to the University of Rochester Medical Center campus, including Strong Memorial Hospital, according to UR spokesperson Sara Miller. But no armed peace officers are assigned to any other university properties.

The campus public safety department wants to arm additional peace officers, who would be assigned to patrol the River Campus, the Brooks Crossing and Riverview student apartments west of the Genesee River, and the Eastman School of Music campus, according to the publicly available proposal. Under the department's proposal, each site would have one armed officer per shift.

Campus peace officers can perform many of the same duties as a police officer, including arresting people for alleged criminal offenses on UR property. Most, though not all, of the campus safety officers have been peace officers since 2013.

The proposal also recommends giving armed public safety department supervisors "unrestricted access to all campuses."

In the proposal, which was updated in December, campus public safety officials say it's necessary to have armed officers instead of relying on armed Rochester Police Department officers or armed medical center peace officers to respond to campus incidents involving weapons.

Currently, armed supervisors and officers from the medical center can respond to the adjacent campuses during incidents in which people's health or lives are at risk, the proposal says. But in active-shooter drills, it takes those officers an average of 6 minutes to respond. The response time is unacceptable, officials say in the proposal.

The Eastman School campus relies entirely on Rochester Police Department officers for incidents involving weapons, the proposal says.

"We believe the University has a responsibility to provide the same level of protection to all of the areas patrolled by DPS," says the proposal. "Failing to provide armed officer coverage on the River Campus and at the Eastman School of Music at best delays and worst leaves unprotected large segments of our community."

But the proposal still faces opposition from students and faculty.

The Minority Students' Association Board sent an e-mail to members in November saying the proposal "does not reflect the direct needs of this campus and surrounding community and in fact, endangers many," according to a UR Campus Times article published at the time.

Student and faculty opponents have expressed fears that the proposal is another step toward a fully armed campus police force, which many in the UR community have resisted for years.

During a November forum on the proposal, some students asked why the university's approach to a potential active-shooter situation centers on arming campus officers, and doesn't include drills so students know how to respond, the Campus Times article reports.

The students and faculty opposed to the proposal also note that the public safety officers who would be armed would be permitted to patrol sections of public streets and sidewalks, which they say would affect people in nearby neighborhoods.

A 2017 change in state law gave campus peace officers jurisdiction over the sidewalks and streets immediately adjacent to UR grounds, buildings, or property. The law "allows DPS officers to make arrests on sidewalks adjoining University properties, as well as investigate motor vehicle accidents on city streets running through and adjacent to University properties," Miller says.

The opponents largely want the proposal to be withdrawn or rejected.