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Faculty Union Wants Outside Oversight on URI Campus Police

PROVIDENCE, R.I. ― Faculty union leaders at the University of Rhode Island are demanding the school take several steps before instituting a plan to give guns to campus police, including outside oversight on using force.

The executive committee of the URI chapter of the American Association of University Professors voted last week to demand that a new use-of-force policy being developed be approved by the attorney general. It also wants the attorney general’s office to oversee and adjudicate complaints about excessive use of force brought against campus police.

Those are among several demands the union’s leadership is making following university President David Dooley’s decision last week to arm campus police, saying that would help ensure its campus is safe and that police can respond quickly to any threat.

URI is the only public university in the nation that does not arm its campus police, although Frank Annunziato, the union’s executive director, points out the state’s other public colleges, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island, have chosen not to arm police on their campuses.

Annunziato said it is important as URI puts the new policy into place that it seeks the expertise of outsiders such as the attorney general’s office to make the policy and then make sure it is followed. Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said that while the office would be available as a resource to URI, she said the attorney general has no statutory authority to approve policy or review complaints about excessive use of force in individual departments.

Annunziato said if not the attorney general, some other external agency should be involved because the university does not have those skills.

“They don’t know what they’re doing,” he said. “It should be some outside force that does it.”

URI did not answer a series of questions posed last week about the plan and the union’s response, referring Friday only to a statement it put out when it announced the decision on April 14. It said at that time that it plans to form an oversight committee to include faculty, staff, students and law enforcement to review all policies and procedures, including on the use of force, although it is not clear whether they would seek outside review of the policy or of alleged violations of the policy by its officers.

The union represents 700 URI faculty members. Among its other demands is that URI provide a specific breakdown of costs to arm police, which it says the school underestimated when it announced the plan.

URI said last week there would be an estimated one-time cost of $150,000, with ongoing annual costs estimated at about $23,000. But in a report in April 2013, the university said there would be a total estimated cost in the first year of approximately $500,000, including ongoing annual costs of $300,000.

When asked to explain the difference last week, URI spokeswoman Linda Acciardo said the 2013 report made assumptions including salary increases for police officers.

“There are no increases scheduled at this time, but we will assess,” she said.

Annunziato called URI’s new cost estimate “pie-in-the-sky guesstimates.”

“If you’re saying to people, ‘Now you’re going to have to carry a gun, now you’re going to have to get extra training,’ and you’re telling them there’s going to be no increase in salary? That’s ridiculous. There’s going to be increases,” he said.

The university has said it will make a plan to implement the policy available for review in May. Officers are expected to be trained this summer, and the university expects they will be armed by next spring semester.

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