by Savannah Plaisted ’21
Do you feel safe on Providence College’s campus? Would you feel safer if some of the officers at PC were armed? According to a poll run by The Cowl’s opinion section last semester, 72 percent of students that answered said they would not feel safer with armed guards on campus.
In 2016, PC hired an outside firm, Margolis Healy, which deals with safety on college campuses, to look into the state of the Office of Public Safety. Their report suggests that PC should look into arming a portion of the guards on campus.
It recommended looking into the benefits of a public safety force that is both sworn and not sworn (not to be confused with armed), per Chief of Public Safety Koren Kanadanian.
Kanadanian stated, “I am also in the process of reviewing the findings of the report and whether it is relevant or not. As we move forward creating and restructuring the department as the current non-sworn force we are to be able to provide the most effective safety and security for the PC campus.”
Thus, it is clear that PC is not in the process of enacting a policy of armed guards, it is simply an issue that has been up for discussion within the Cabinet.
Many members of the Cabinet have been concerned for public safety in light of recent tragic events occurring in schools. On a similar note, Kanadanian noted that a policy of armed guards would not be enacted without consulting the student body first in “campus wide focus groups.”
In the report, which was removed from PC’s website given that it is two years old and had to be requested from the chief of public safety himself, one can find a half page of comments made by people in an online anonymous survey on their perceptions of the Office of Public Safety. The comments mainly stated that because many of the Public Safety officers were police officers previously, they should be armed even on PC’s campus.
It also stated that arming guards would result in quicker response times to emergency situations on campus. While this could be the case, the Providence Police Department is located off Eaton Street for the purpose of being able to have quicker response times to problems at PC than other PPD locations might have.
PC cannot look to other colleges in Rhode Island, given that they all maintain a variation of armed and unarmed officers, with some having mixed forces, some having all armed guards, and some having none.
Many consider the problem with armed officers in schools to be the “us versus them” mentality. With that being said, “Research has also found that SRO (school resource officer) interactions were related to lower levels of school connectedness,” (Theriot, 2013).
For a college that constantly emphasizes the family dynamic on campus, it seems as though connection within the school community is a feeling that PC wouldn’t want to lessen.
Studies have shown that students of minority descent and females in particular are more likely to feel unsafe around SROs (or in this case, armed guards on a college campus), (Theriot).
When translated to PC’s campus, which is consistently ranked one of the most segregated campuses in the United States (according to the Princeton Review), and a campus that encounters issues of sexual assault and harrassment, increased feelings of unsafety within the groups of minority and female students would be counterproductive to the mission of the Office of Public Safety.
With that being said, it seems as though this is not an issue that necessitates further consideration. Students do not want guards to be armed (based off of the poll the opinion section ran) and studies that show SROs do not improve the feeling of safety in academic settings.
Before PC spends any more money researching the possibility of arming the public safety officers, it should consider the opinions of the students as well as the conclusions that researchers have made.
Additionally, money spent on this research could go towards countless other areas that have proven to be problems for the College, such as improvements in diversity and inclusion, lessening student tuition, and food quality.