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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Staff Editorial: Arming AUPD is not a solution to student safety

The University can take many steps to improve community safety without introducing lethal weapons

The American University Police Department may begin arming its officers with lethal force weapons. University Vice President Bronté Burleigh-Jones, shared this proposal with the campus community on Oct. 4 in a memo addressing campus safety

Burleigh-Jones emphasized the importance of community input on this decision. In that spirit, The Eagle’s editorial board overwhelmingly disapproves of arming AUPD officers with lethal weapons. 

Introducing guns on campus will cause harm, either bodily or emotionally, to the student body — especially Black students and community members. Instances of racial profiling and mistreatment of Black students on campus are already present and the addition of lethal weapons could prove deadly for AU’s own students. 

AUPD’s forcible removal of former student Gianna Wheeler from her apartment in 2019 drew ire from the AU community for excessive use of force and the University’s defense of AUPD’s actions. Incidents like these make students of color feel unsafe around campus police and wary of their ability to help students in crisis. 

Aside from glaring concerns about the safety of people of color on campus, there are other issues with AUPD that AU must address far before we consider introducing lethal force weapons. A recent Eagle investigation found that multiple blue light towers are malfunctioning across campus. These towers exist for emergency situations where students or community members can use the tower to directly contact AUPD and dispatch officers to the tower’s location. With eight of these towers malfunctioning in various ways, student safety is already compromised. Instead of investing in guns, AU should bolster current safety measures and fix these towers across campus. 

Mere months before the University put forward this possibility, AU was quoted in a Washington Post article on George Washington University’s decision to arm some of its campus officers. In March, “AU said its approach ‘encompasses physical security, active patrol by police, training the community, threat management and collaboration with local law enforcement when needed.’”

AU’s current safety approach utilizes various forms of protection that avoid the need for lethal weapons, especially through close collaboration with MPD. However, less than nine months later, the University is considering a drastic change to the way AU addresses safety on campus.

Moving forward in this conversation, the University must keep its promise to engage with the campus community in good faith. The University must make changes and improvements to improve campus safety, such as fixing malfunctioning blue light towers, more effectively sharing emergency plans to students, improving reaction time to emergencies and examining racial prejudices within AUPD and on campus at-large. 

The likelihood that armed campus police could prevent or stop mass shooting events is questionable. A 2021 study analyzing mass school shootings from 1980-2019 found that there’s “no association between having an armed officer and deterrence of violence.” 

Ultimately, the most comprehensive way to prevent lethal violence and shootings on campus is for the federal government to implement sweeping gun control policies. Adding more guns into the equation by arming AUPD is a bandaid over the bullet hole that is the epidemic of gun violence in America. 

This article was written by Jelinda Montes and edited by Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

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