Two Boston City Councilors decried the decision by the Northeastern University Police Department to arm its officers with semi-automatic rifles and called for a council hearing on the matter.
“Assault rifles are the last thing we need in NUPD patrol cars,” Councilors Tito Jackson and Josh Zakim said in a letter to Northeastern President Joseph Aoun. “This is a step backwards for community policing and encourages mistrust and fear between NUPD and Northeastern students, as well as Mission Hill and Roxbury residents who often come into contact with NUPD.”
The councilors said that Northeastern failed to inform the Boston Police and the legislation of the department's decision to up its firepower in the wake of mass shootings across the county and terrorist attacks abroad.
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NUPD is joining Boston University, MIT, Tufts, and UMass Boston in arming specially trained officers with weapons that the departments have chosen to respond to an active shooter.
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Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans is also less than thrilled by the news of Northeastern’s Police Chief Michael Davis’ decision.
"I can remember having a dialogue not long ago about whether they should be carrying handguns," Evans told WGBH on Monday. "Now we're talking about a dialogue on whether they should have patrol rifles. Obviously I don’t think they’re necessary. We can be on those campuses within five or six minutes. We're highly trained."
The move calls for 20 officers to carry semiautomatic rifles in their cruisers in the event of an armed assailant on campus. The rifles would only be distributed during such a high-level threat.
A representative from Northeastern Police Department said he could not comment on which models the department would be using.
“There is no higher priority than the safety and well-being of our campus community," Northeastern spokesman John O'Neill said. "Our officers are trained to employ a number of capabilities to protect the campus community, including the use of tactical rifles if necessary."
One local gun expert thinks that the negative reaction is misguided,
“These weapons are antiques, this is not new technology,” Gun Owners Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace said. “Semiautomatics are no different than handguns, you pull the trigger, one round goes off. These tools are defensive in nature in the hands of law enforcement. Why would you want to take away from entities that would defend us?”
Wallace said that while the need to protect the innocent is paramount, there is a threshold where over-arming officers would be dangerous, but tactical rifles do not fit that bill.
“That doesn’t mean they should have tanks and heavy machinery, but these are common weapons,” Wallace said. “There is a huge misperception between what could happen, what does happen and what has happened when it comes to these kinds of weapons. The last thing you want to do is react to a situation under-armed.”