Arming University Police Departments Part 2: Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Conducting risk assessments, developing buy-in with stakeholders, developing memoranda of understanding with other agencies and training are some of the steps you’ll need to take when moving through this process.

4. Train: While training on any aspect of police operations is important, training on the use of deadly force is critical, particularly in a college campus setting. Universities should train officers on the new policies and procedures surrounding the use of firearms and deadly force. This training is crucial to the successful implementation of the new policies and procedures.

Key recommendation:

Include topics such as use of force, firearms, sensitivity and de-escalation in training curricula. University officials should review the training standards of neighboring local law enforcement in comparison to the training provided to their campus police officers. The training topics, curricula, and number of training hours will vary from university to university, depending on the institution’s needs and the requirements and training standards issued by the state. Course topics that the university police agency should consider incorporating into its training program include use of deadly force, weapons management, de-escalation, cultural sensitivity and jurisdictional authority.

University officials should strive to meet or exceed the training standards of their neighboring law enforcement agencies. Doing so will help to alleviate community concerns and provide reassurance that campus police officers are being held to the same standards and levels of accountability as local and/or state law enforcement officers.

5. Implement: Firearms should not be issued until after training (on both the use of the firearm, and the related policies) has been completed, and after the officers have submitted and completed all other qualifications.

Key recommendation:

Consider distributing level 3 retention holsters with each firearm. Level 3 retention holsters have a “three-part
locking device to maintain handgun retention,” which makes it difficult for a suspect or perpetrator to remove the firearm from the officer’s holster during a physical altercation. Distributing this type of holster to the officers will help to alleviate concerns from the community and ensure continued buy-in.

6. Evaluate: Evaluating training and exercises provides an avenue for university police agencies to test and improve plans, policies and procedures. Universities should conduct training and exercises on an annual basis to ensure that officers remain proficient on the use of force and of firearms. Training, exercises and drills should be evaluated to ensure that policies and procedures are being followed as written. Evaluations of annual training sessions should also measure knowledge gained.

Key recommendations:

Conduct and evaluate training on use of force and other related curricula (including firearms qualifications) on an annual basis. Use-of-force training should be provided annually. Firearms qualifications should also be conducted at least annually, or in accordance with local or state standards. According to the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), “Officers should qualify at least once each calendar year with any firearms they are authorized to use.” The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) standards also affirm this, stating, “at least annually, all agency personnel authorized to carry weapons are required to receive in-service training on the agency’s use of force policies and demonstrate proficiency with all approved lethal weapons.”

This training should also be evaluated through pre- and post-tests as a means to measure knowledge gained. These evaluations will allow trainers and campus police to address deficiencies in the training delivery, as well as in the materials and/or departmental policies and procedures.

Conduct and evaluate joint training exercises with neighboring law enforcement agencies on an annual basis to assess the performance of all tasks and to identify areas that require additional training. Joint training should be conducted on an annual basis, with the goal of testing and improving plans for mutual aid in all areas of emergency planning and critical incident response. Joint training should include scenarios that pose the highest levels of risk to the university. Examples of these training scenarios include an active shooter, armed student and armed outsider. These joint training opportunities prepare for the possibility of an emergency, as well as build relationships and skills. Evaluation of this training should help to inform improvements to the MOUs and other planning documents (i.e., standard operating procedures).

Think Long and Hard Before You Commit to Change

Arriving at the decision to arm university officers is multifaceted and must consider the unique characteristics of the university, such as its risks, demographics, location and crime rates, as well as the concerns and safety of the students, staff and community. Once the decision has been made to arm officers, implementing the change can also be challenging. Policies and procedures must be developed and/or updated, and training must be augmented to adequately prepare officers. University officials and campus police chiefs must also successfully communicate the changes and their implications, while remaining transparent throughout the process.

While arming officers may not be the most appropriate option for many universities, it is apparent that an increasing number of universities are making this change and/or are actively considering it. Reviewing best practices and validated processes, like those listed above, prior to making such an instrumental change is important in any situation, but especially in those where the lives, safety, and security of others are involved.

Denise Rodriguez King is an associate research analyst at CNA, a not-for profit organization that provides analytic-based information relevant to police officers, criminal justice operators, researchers, public officials and community stakeholders. For a complete list of the best practices and recommendations, please contact King at She would like to acknowledge the subject matter experts who contributed to this report: Michael Alsup, Chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police-University/College Police Section, and Chief of Police at Harper College; Timothy Delaney, Chief of Police at the University of Pittsburgh; Marlon Lynch, Associate Vice President and Chief of Police at the University of Chicago; and Mark Porter, Chief of Police at Brown University.

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