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UI police have drawn, not shot weapons

BY ABE TEKIPPE | JUNE 25, 2009 7:21 AM

University police officers across the state have been carrying guns for nearly 19 months, but those guns have yet to be used against suspects.

In fact, the UI police are the only university agency whose officers have drawn their weapons. Since Nov. 22, 2007 — the day UI police started carrying firearms — they have drawn and aimed their guns six times, according to the Campus Safety and Security Report presented to the state Board of Regents in April. Despite an apparent lack of use, some thought the change was overdue.

“I think that it was odd that they did not [carry sidearms before],” said Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay. “Across the United States, it’s common practice that certified law enforcement carry sidearms.”

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said carrying firearms has not affected the department’s day-to-day operations.

“The only thing that it’s changed is that [UI police officers] are now equipped like all state-certified police officers,” he said.

Yet it was an important change, at least in the public eye.

Anna Sewell, a UI graduate student who, admittedly, is “not a big gun person,” said she understands why gun-toting police might seem comforting to some.

“It might help them feel safer,” she said.

Authorities also perceive benefits. Iowa City police said arming UI police helps the entire community because the officers no longer have to rely on city authorities’ backup, which tends to slow response times.

“In the past, that reliance on other agencies, just by its very nature, caused there to be a potential delay in response to those situations where somebody has used —or has threatened to use — a gun,” Kelsay said.

In March 2008, for example, armed police at the University of Northern Iowa were able to respond quickly to a call about a reported gunman on campus, said Milissa Wright, the associate director of UNI police.

“We didn’t have to wait for an outside agency to arrive,” she said.

But records show UNI and Iowa State University police have not yet drawn or fired their weapons at suspects. In the UNI incident, authorities later found the alleged gunman off-campus.

At the UI, however, incident reports detail the six circumstances where weapons were drawn on six occasions — in some cases to assist other agencies. Green declined to comment on the difference between schools.

In comparison with university police, Iowa City officers drew their firearms more than 40 times from January 2008 to the end of March — the most recent month for which data are available. Ames and Cedar Falls police do not keep track of that statistic.

Similar to campus statistics, city police records show no officer at the three departments has fired her or his gun at a suspect in more than 10 years.

Most of the time, it’s because they’re simply unnecessary.

“A firearm is a tool of last resort,” Kelsay said.

Although they are used infrequently, Cedar Falls police Capt. Craig Berte said he believes firearms are an essential part of university authorities’ jobs.

“We all go through the exact same training,” he said. “I’ve always supported all peace officers carrying a gun, regardless of where they work.”


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