On Campus

DPS officers are armed to protect campus from violent criminals

Lucy Naland | Presentation Director

Firearms are among the tools DPS officers are trained to use in an active shooter situation.

Tony Callisto’s stern voice turned solemn as he looked down at a table in front of him and considered the possibility of an active shooter incident at Syracuse University.

“The hope is we never experience one of those events,” said Callisto, the chief law enforcement officer of Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety. “But we train as if they can happen on any given day.”

Firearms are among the tools DPS officers are trained to use in an active shooter situation. Since New York state granted DPS peace officer status in 2004, guns have become an important part of DPS’ arsenal. Each of DPS’ 68 full-time peace officers are armed and authorized to use firearms like handguns and shotguns.

Ninety-four percent of campus police officers across the country are authorized to carry a firearm, according to a 2015 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

When DPS swore in its first armed peace officers in 2005, some questioned why the university needed guns on campus, said John Sardino, associate chief of DPS’s Law Enforcement and Community Policing Division.

Some were concerned about the image of a campus that needed its public safety department to be armed, he said. But after a student opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus, killing 32 people in 2007, Sardino said people changed their minds.

“People saw the value of having a campus department that could respond to an event and quickly make the campus safe again,” Sardino said.

For officers to carry guns, they must first undergo training mandated by the state and the city. DPS peace officers need to meet the same minimum training requirements as SPD officers, according to the Memorandum of Understanding formalized by SPD and DPS in 2003.

A four-day active shooter training exercise, which will include DPS, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry University Police Department, the Syracuse Police Department and SUNY Upstate Medical University Police, has been scheduled for June.

Those minimum standards require DPS officers to have at least 56 hours of firearms training, Callisto said. An additional 40 hours of training in the use of force and use of force laws are tacked on to the 56 hours of firearms training, he added.

Callisto said the majority of firearms training is done on gun ranges and at the SPD, Onondaga County or DPS academies. Training standards are mandated by SPD. DPS matches SPD training standards “even down to the types of firearms our officers carry,” Callisto said.

Those firearms include handguns and a limited number of long guns, Callisto said. Long guns, which are assigned to officers who work in DPS vehicles, are locked in place inside the vehicle when not in use, he said.

Callisto declined to describe specific details of the police academy training because potential criminals could exploit police tactics, he said. But he added that DPS officers train with firearms on gun ranges twice a year and are re-qualified in the spring and fall.

The university also hires community service officers and red-shirted security guards, but they aren’t armed, Callisto said, as only DPS peace officers are permitted to carry firearms on campus.

Unlike Syracuse city police officers, DPS peace officers only have jurisdiction over SU property and the area immediately bordering the university, according to New York criminal procedure law. Peace officers are employed directly by SU but must be confirmed by the SPD chief, per the memorandum.

About 15 officers are on duty at any given time, but that number fluctuates depending on the day of the week, Callisto said. About 22 officers are present on campus on weekend nights, he added.

The SUNY-ESF University Police Department and DPS maintain a close relationship. UPD and DPS officers communicate on the same radio channel to inform officers in both departments of situations in the surrounding area, said Thomas LeRoy, UPD chief.

UPD and DPS officers also back each other up, share information and work on the same investigations when needed, he added.

Additionally, the departments meet monthly with other security organizations in a coalition called the University Hill Public Safety Association, which includes DPS, UPD, SPD and police departments at the hospitals and businesses on University Hill, he said.

In the event of an emergency, LeRoy said DPS and UPD are prepared to help each other “without a doubt.” In a 2015 incident where homicide suspects entered Oakwood Cemetery, which borders the SUNY-ESF campus, LeRoy said five DPS patrol cars assisted the UPD and SPD in creating a perimeter around the cemetery.

DPS and UPD will be training together in multiple exercises this summer, LeRoy said.

In 2015, Callisto said DPS officers are trained to respond to an active shooter situation in under 60 seconds. Arming officers ultimately makes the campus safer, Callisto said.

“Our officers can only protect the students, faculty and staff on this campus if we’re fully equipped to go after violent criminals,” he said. “If we’re unarmed, we’re unable to do that.”

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