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Campus police to carry guns at University of Rhode Island

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — University of Rhode Island campus police will soon carry guns under a policy announced Monday, ending the school’s status as the only public university in the country where campus police do not carry firearms.

‘‘In order to provide the safest environment possible and to ensure a timely response to any threat to the safety of our campuses, our police officers must be equipped properly to function as first responders,’’ university president David Dooley said in a statement announcing his decision.

The announcement came a little more than a year after a gun scare at the university’s main campus in South Kingstown, when a panic was set off after people inside a lecture hall said they heard someone speak of having a gun. Police found no firearm.

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Campus police were at the scene in under a minute, but they had to wait about five minutes for armed police from South Kingstown to arrive, said Stephen Baker, director of public safety.

‘‘It really showed what would happen if indeed there was an active shooter on campus,’’ Baker said.

Not everyone supported the change. URI’s faculty union argued there is no evidence that arming campus police would increase public safety.

In May 2013, the Rhode Island Board of Education voted 8 to 1 to allow leaders at the state’s three institutions of higher education to decide for themselves whether to arm campus police.

Baker said they are now working on policies for things such as use of force and carrying firearms. They are also training officers on areas such as mental illness and multiculturalism, and every officer will be required to do a two-week firearms training with the State Police. A committee made up of faculty, students, staff, and law enforcement will oversee what policies and procedures are put into effect.

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