An online petition is calling on members of the public to put pressure on Memorial University’s senate to reverse a recent regulation change made last November allowing on-duty peace officers to carry firearms into class.
Stephen Crocker, an associate professor of sociology at the university, launched the petition at Change.org. As of Sunday afternoon, it had attracted almost 700 supporters.
“I began to ask colleagues around the campus had they heard about this, and absolutely no one I spoke to had heard about this,” said Crocker, who read about the regulation change in a Telegram story published in February and in a letter to the editor by MUN Graduate Students’ Union president Joey Donnelly.
Crocker said students and staff should have been consulted on the matter, arguing the regulation change alters classroom culture and raises safety concerns.
“The key thing is there wasn’t really adequate justification for this change. This change has really come about because the police have asked (to) attend class in uniform because it is inconvenient to change beforehand.”
He contends weapons have no place in a classroom environment and may contribute to an escalation in gun culture on campus.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Supt. James Carroll told The Telegram on-duty officers have attended classes at MUN carrying their holstered weapons for years. He said the regulation change was not requested by the RNC and does not apply to plainclothes officers or police cadets.
“I think a lot of the general public thought that there was a change that the police cadets were the ones that were wearing their sidearm in class, which is not the truth,” said Carroll. “Police cadets are not sworn, certified officers. They will not be issued their firearm until such time that they graduate from the police studies program (in August).”
Crocker argues a section of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s collective agreement gives officers the freedom to take time off for class instead of remaining on duty.
“It seems to me that in that provision there is already a recognition on the part of the police that it is reasonable and desirable that they be off duty when they go to class and that they have the right to under their own collective agreement,” he said.
However, Carroll noted that item in the collective agreement is still at the chief of police’s discretion and subject to the RNC’s operational requirements any given day.
“There’s no guarantee that the officer will even be able to attend classes, bearing operation requirements or the need of the day.”
In the present semester at MUN’s St. John’s campus, no uniformed officers attend classes — most take courses online, according to Carroll.
A process is in place to notify the officer in charge of Campus Enforcement at MUN when a uniformed RNC officer will be taking a class. That message is then relayed to teachers.
“I’ve spoken to a few professors in there, and they haven’t had one student come to them and say, ‘I’ve got a major problem with an officer being in my class with a sidearm on,’” said Carroll.
“From an operational perspective, it doesn’t make sense for that officer to come back to headquarters, get changed into civilian clothes, go to class and then come back. They’re going to be out of commission for three hours, which is not fair to the general public.”
Bert Riggs, who chairs the senate committee on undergraduate studies, said the RNC’s collective agreement was not discussed in the senate.
In his experience, a senate decision has never been the subject of a petition. He added reviewing regulations is not unprecedented.
On the notion officers having guns on campus affects students, Riggs noted representatives of the MUN Students’ Union all voted in favour of the change. He said the presence of uniformed officers on campus has never been restricted to investigations — they can drop by the library or purchase a coffee like any other member of the public.
“The campus has the same rules and regulations as the rest of the area which the police patrol.”