Photo by Diego Saldaña-Rojas
Raul Herrera/Staff Writer
How to respond to a disaster is what University police considers when raising arms, but national incidents have made others skeptical.
The FIU Police Department purchased 50 M16 rifles in the last couple of years and recently acquired a small Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle and a mobile command bus.
These new purchases are to better improve in campus safety in everything from an active shooter to disaster recovery, said University Police Chief Alex Casas.
Reports of the FIUPD’s purchases came after the deployment of similar armed vehicles by law enforcement in response to the civil unrest in Ferguson, Miss.
“I think the timing is less than ideal,” said Ediberto Román, professor at the University College of Law. “I believe there have been suggestions of proposed legislation in Congress to question the distribution of current and former military equipment to local police forces.”
The FIU Police Department obtained the MRAP and rifles through the Law Enforcement Support Office Program, which is part of the Department of Defense’s 1033 initiative that helps dispose of the surplus military equipment by giving it up to local law enforcement.
This initiative was developed through the National Defense Authorization Acts of 1990 and 1996 to better equip the police for the “war on drugs” and the “war on crime.”
Román said he wasn’t sure if the purchases were necessary for the University.
“I find it to be a fairly safe campus,” he said. “I would hope [funds] would have been used to insure an alert system for the isolated, individualized attack as opposed to almost an armed conflict type preparation.”
While the $2,000 mobile command bus would be as a mini-command center for operations where police can be closer to the action, like when they need to supervise football games, The $2,500 MRAP would only be used in extraordinary instances, such as hurricane relief, active shooter incidents, flooding or fire rescue incidents.
Jose Reyes, a freshman engineering major, thought that having an MRAP on campus in case of hurricanes or floods was a good idea.
“I think it’s good,” he said, “it’s for our safety and protection.”
With a growing student population of over 54,000, Román can understand the possibility of an incident and preparing for it, but thinks the University is going about it the wrong way.
Krystal Zheng, freshman communications major, said she was concerned with having these sort of weapons around.
The worst that could happen between students, she said, is a fight, and if there is ever a shooter on campus, the police can handle it without an MRAP.
“I think it’s too much”, she said. “It’s kind of scary.”
Zheng also wondered how the police department would keep the MRAP from falling into the wrong hands.
However, Casas said the MRAP won’t be used around campus when there is a high amount of students moving about, or exposed.
“We don’t patrol in the MRAP,” Casas said. “We have it tucked away—I hope I never have to use it.”
Casas said that University police officers are being trained to use the MRAP, and the semi-automatic M16s are all customized for each officer according to specifications of sights.
FIUPD also cooperates with outside law enforcement and, according to Casas, they do so quickly and more efficiently with the new equipment.
Despite the skepticism among the purchase of the M16 rifles and the MRAP, Casas said that the new equipment will better improve on-campus safety.
“I understand the perception, but I got to tell you, from the law enforcement perspective, we knew exactly what they were to be used for, we would never blur those two lines,” he said in reference to the boundary between police and military actions. “We’re not running around with those rifles strapped to our backs.”