Treat campus police as actual officers, not security guards

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Treat campus police as actual officers, not security guards

A police car pulls over a car on Pennsylvania Avenue on Feb. 3.

A police car pulls over a car on Pennsylvania Avenue on Feb. 3.

Kenyon Edmond

A police car pulls over a car on Pennsylvania Avenue on Feb. 3.

Kenyon Edmond

Kenyon Edmond

A police car pulls over a car on Pennsylvania Avenue on Feb. 3.

By Lucas Oswald, Columnist

University of Chicago campus police officer shot Charles Thomas, a 21-year-old student at the University, in the shoulder after he charged the officer with a metal tent stake on April 3. An uproar within the college community followed, with many students and faculty going so far as to demand the disarming of their campus police department.

Not only is the commotion completely unjustified, it’s also potentially dangerous for the university community, and should this thinking take root, for campuses all around the country.

Some critics of the campus police wonder why the officer didn’t use a taser to subdue the student. Others say, due to Thomas’s alleged mental health issues — possibly bipolar disorder — the situation should have been handled differently. However, the University of Chicago Police Department is not equipped with tasers. Thus, the safest way for the officers involved to face the threat of an armed suspect — student or not — is through the use of a firearm.

As to the matter of the supposed mental instability of Thomas, the officer that fired the shot had received prior training in how to neutralize events involving people suffering from mental illnesses. He followed the protocol, backing away from the suspect and giving clear, concise orders. When the student didn’t comply and then ran at the officer with a weapon, the officer fired, fearing for his safety.

Allowing the student to hide behind bipolar disorder fails to negate that Thomas was engaging in criminal activity at the time, smashing apartment and car windows. According to statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, 4.4 percent of Americans will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. That’s over 14 million people. The vast majority of these people don’t charge at policemen or destroy private property.

Should Charles Thomas have just been left to continue his rampage? How much longer would it have gone on? Who could have gotten hurt?

And now, especially in the wake of the deadly string of shootings plaguing our nation, students are actively calling for their protectors to be disarmed. What happens if — God forbid — someone with more than just a metal stick shows up? Tasers and pepper spray won’t bring down an active shooter.

A lot of the antipathy seems to stem from a lack of knowledge surrounding the issue of campus police. Many students think of them as glorified security guards with no real power or training. In reality, 92 percent of public universities employ actual, fully-trained law enforcement officers in their campus police departments.

These are real cops, ready to protect us from anything ranging from a tent stake-wielding student to an active shooter. They have devoted their lives to protecting our community from threats large and small, and as a thank you, we question their every step, second-guessing and micromanaging like we know better. And we don’t.

So next time you see a campus police officer, thank him for protecting us. Give her a high five. Smile at them. You’ll probably find that they’re good people.

Lucas is a sophomore in LAS.

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