Photo by Anna Meassick |CIGAR|

Officers are trained to ‘do what they have to do’ to keep URI safe

In today’s society, shootings or potential bombings are a real possibility and at the University of Rhode Island, it is important to know what procedures are in place to combat these threats.

The URI Police and Public Safety Department have a specific policy in place for bomb threats, however they wish to keep it private due to tactical information included in the policy. Although, there was some information the Cigar was able to receive regarding the process of a potential bomb threat.

Depending on the situation, the procedures change. If a call is made threatening to set off a bomb, the first move by the Police and Public Safety is sending an officer to the location immediately. The officer will talk to the person that called to find out any information specified during the threat, for example a time and place. If there is a short time frame given, they will choose whether to to evacuate the building and have their personnel check for suspicious packages.

In the event that a suspicious package is found, police maintain a wide perimeter and the bomb squad is called to evaluate the package. The bomb squad utilizes a robot that goes in to evaluate the area as they don’t want to risk sending in officers or bomb dogs.

If there is not a suspicious package found, the bomb dog is be called in. The University’s bomb dog, Figaro, is more equipped to detect explosives than any officer. Erica Vieira, the University’s Police Sergeant and bomb dog handler, said that if you were to put a teaspoon of sugar in two olympic sized swimming pools, a dog could detect it.

“I feel pretty safe with a tool like that. If there’s a bomb in here, this dog’s going to find it.” Vieira said.

After bringing the bomb dog in to sweep the area, a certain distance from the building is secured depending on the severity of the situation.

For both scenarios, closing down roads and alerting the University of the situation to make sure no one is walking through the area is necessary to ensure public safety. After doing a complete sweep of the area, officers open the building and area to the public.

Bomb threat trainings consist of making sure the officers know the policy well, while also running through some scenario training with their supervisors.

Once a year, officers go through an in depth active shooter training that consists of creating scenarios for the officers. These trainings are done during the summer or spring break when students are not on campus, which allows them to utilize the empty buildings, where the simulations are held.

The active shooter procedures are quite different from the procedures in place for bomb threats. If there is an active shooter on campus, all of the URI Police and Public Safety officers would be sent to the area; they can be anywhere on campus in two minutes. Kingston Police is contacted and sent to the scene as well.

While people evacuate the building, officers try to gain as much information as possible before they enter. It is important that people keep their hands up to differentiate between the suspect and the students, faculty and staff.

From there, officers take what information they have and follow the sound of gunshots. Stephen Baker, the director of public safety and chief of police, said, “They will do what they have to do [even] if it means shooting a suspect.”

A huge part of the procedures for both events is an effective emergency alert system. The system that URI uses is known as RAVE. Students can sign up to get texts or phone calls in case of an emergency. The blue lights around campus can also act as a speaker to alert people nearby of potential danger. The blue lights flash red in the event of an emergency as well.   

Training is also a key part of keeping everyone safe. Not only are the officers thoroughly trained, but civilians are as well. Shootings can happen anywhere, so these trainings are imperative to the well-being of citizens in the community. Baker said that almost 1,000 people have been trained so far. The office of Public Safety is also looking into holding night events to educate students while trying to accommodate their busy schedules.  

URI Police and Public Safety gain most of their procedures from past tragedies on other college campuses or our campus. In 2013, there was a situation in which students and faculty in Chafee Hall thought they saw a gun. The police treated this as though it were a real threat although they eventually found out there was no gun. Baker said that they learned a lot from that experience and improved their policies after it.

Of course, the University hopes that in the event of a potential bomb threat or active shooter, the URI Police and Public Safety would know exactly what to do to keep everyone safe. Stephen Baker says that, “we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”