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Northeastern Sparks Debate

Alex Thomas
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Patrick Kenney.

Northeastern University in Boston really ruffled some feathers last week when they announced that the police force would be armed with semi-automatic rifles. On the face, that’s a pretty shocking development. A lot of people are stunned that the college made this decision amid all of the recent issues involving police around the country. While I understand that thought process, I believe that this was the correct move by the college.

Whether we want to admit this or not, there is a real issue in our country surrounding mass shootings at schools. We can debate why that is all day, issues of gun control, domestic and radicalized terrorism would be the talking points, but the fact is we need to be prepared to handle these issues when they arises. We don’t want to say that it’ll happen again, but unfortunately the reality of our world currently is that something like this will happen again, it’s just a matter of where and a matter of when.

When people see these things, there is this perception that the campus police don’t need to be as heavily armed, that the city’s police department will take charge and handle things. To a degree, that is true, but how long do you think it would take for the city to respond? Chief Michael Davis told the Boston Globe that, “It’s a proximity issue. Our ability to respond quickly is much, much greater.” He isn’t wrong, either. I spoke to a former Northeastern police officer who told me the same exact thing.

The message he gave me? That the campus police could respond within minutes, instantly arriving to the scene. City police? It could take upwards of 40 minutes to get a full response that would be able to handle the situation. I’m not sure you need me to tell you, but a couple of minutes and 40 minutes is a pretty big difference. It doesn’t take much to realize that would be the difference between possibly only a few lives lost and a large number of lives lost. Unfortunately, a lot can be done in that half-hour time difference.

Which leads me to my next point, I find it very surprising and almost baffling that faculty and students at Northeastern are protesting this decision. These decisions are made with the campus’ safety in mind, it’s not to have more power as many believe. In fact, adding semiautomatic weapons really isn’t anything new. This was done to minimal talk on the campuses of Boston University, MIT, Tufts and UMASS Boston. This really isn’t anything new in the city of Boston, in fact things have gone quite smoothly at those other campuses.

A quick note on faculty, I’m not exactly sure why there is such a pushback from that group. None of the faculty live on campus, and while I understand they spend a high number of hours working there, this issue is far more impactful on the students. A majority of Northeastern professors live in the surrounding suburbs of Boston, I find it quite surprising that they are so taken back by this decision.

It’s also worth mentioning that Northeastern patrols streets in Boston, and I can tell you first hand that the campus is not in a good area of the city. The crime rate there is high, and the Northeastern police are often called in to help with the city itself. In fact, when the riots following Red Sox and Patriots championships occurred, Northeastern police were part of the response team. They work closely with the city of Boston, who is armed with these kinds of weapons.

By the way, the department have had these semi-automatic weapons for a period of time, they didn’t just purchase them. Now they will be deployed in officer’s vehicles during high-level threats, such as shooters, according to the Boston Globe.

I asked the former officer to comment on this and the response I got was quite simple. In addition to the point about quicker response time, he mentioned that if done right this can be a real positive for the department and can increase safety on campus. He also stressed a level of confidence in the Chief, Michael Davis.

When people see the headline, they tend to roll their eyes and throw their arms up that police are getting armed in a heavier fashion. The things is, that is only partially true. These weapons will only be used in high-level threat situations, which calls for force like that. To have those on campus will reduce response time and will keep the community safer.

It may not be the popular opinion, in fact I’d wager that it is not, but I truly believe that Northeastern University made a good decision by arming their department with semi-automatic weapons.

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