KINGSTON, R.I. – May 1, 2015 – After two years of thoughtful discussion, comprehensive planning and thorough preparation, the University of Rhode Island will transition to an armed police force on Friday, May 8, 2015.
“We have moved carefully and systematically to ensure that all appropriate safeguards, procedures, training and policies are in place,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “We recognize the solemn responsibility we carry in this transition, particularly in light of the recent officer-involved shootings and use of excess force reports across the country.
“When I was notified that our timeline would need to be adjusted from January to April for implementation, I directed the University officials responsible for executing the plan to proceed cautiously and thoroughly, and not let a self-imposed deadline dictate when we were ready,” Dooley said.
Yesterday, Vice President Christina L. Valentino and Director of Public Safety Stephen Baker certified to the president that all steps have been taken and all requirements have been met for qualified police officers to carry firearms. They identified May 8 as the specific date of implementation.
Newly appointed University Police Major Michael A. Jagoda, a 22-year law enforcement veteran and former commanding officer of Troop G Barracks in Bridgeport, Conn., will be leading the URI police force during this time and assisting in the transition. Jagoda brings a strong focus on community-based policing. He managed 102 sworn law enforcement and civilian personnel and oversaw police services for 21 towns.
“I want to emphasize that for the University of Rhode Island, arming police officers is part of a broader strategy toward greater campus safety, one that will allow our officers to be prepared as first-responders to protect us and themselves against any potential violent threat,” said the president. “At the same time, we continue the many ongoing efforts to improve the security of our campuses, and numerous measures have already been implemented.”
The University has enhanced its Emergency Alert System, upgraded its Blue Light Emergency phones and members of the Office of Emergency Management/Department of Public Safety have conducted training in Emergency Protective Actions for hundreds of members of the University community.
“University officials in the Division of Administration and Finance, the Department of Public Safety, Human Resource Administration, and the members of the URI Police Arming Oversight Committee, who have dedicated themselves to assessing the critical policies that will govern the actions of our police officers, have worked diligently to ensure institutional readiness for arming police,” the president said.
The Division of Administration and Finance and the Department of Public Safety developed a comprehensive implementation plan in May 2014 that reflected community input, best practices and state standards in law enforcement to ensure that all appropriate steps were taken for the URI police force to be authorized to carry firearms. The University community has been updated on a monthly basis on the implementation process and progress.
The process was led by Vice President Valentino and Director Baker, a former chief of police in Westerly who became URI’s first police major in 2005. As director of public safety, Baker has played a major role in further professionalizing the department, adding supervisory positions to night patrols and adopting policies and procedures that conform to national accreditation standards.
A large component of the plan involved training that began almost immediately after the announcement. The plan included firearms training, mental illness recognition and response training, fair and impartial policing training, recertification in non-lethal weapons, community-based policing, and multicultural training. Talent Development Director Gerald Williams facilitated a series of meetings with police officers and multicultural student organizations to complement the broader efforts in multicultural training.
All job descriptions were revised to include the requirements for an armed police force. Only police officers who are Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy graduates authorized to enforce state statutes as well as University rules and regulations, who have successfully passed the background investigations conducted by the Rhode Island State Police, and who have met the requirements of the psychological testing, will be armed. Psychological written tests and oral examinations were administered by the URI Psychological Services, which performs the tests for all police officers attending the police academy.
The Oversight Committee, chaired by Naomi Thompson, associate vice president of community, equity and diversity, has taken great care in reviewing policies that cover firearms safety/storage, use of force and officer-involved shooting guidelines, as well as complaint investigation processes, among others. The Oversight Committee’s contributions were intended to ensure that the policies reflect URI’s community policing philosophy. All policies will be posted to the University’s website by May 8.
Prior to this decision, URI was the only public state university in the country with a police force in which officers did not carry firearms.