By Mack Hogan, staff writer

Two city councilors are calling for a hearing on Northeastern University Police Department’s (NUPD) decision to train and equip officers with tactical rifles.

The decision to arm NUPD officers, reported by The News in December, received national press attention, even garnering air time on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Soon after, City Councilors Josh Zakim and Tito Jackson openly condemned the NUPD for not communicating with the surrounding area and the Boston Police Department (BPD).

“Boston has the best police department in the country in large part because Commissioner Evans has led us away from militarized policing,” the councilors said in a letter to President Joseph E. Aoun. “NUPD has chosen to ignore the experts and to deploy tactical weapons in our communities.”

The open hearing is to discuss Northeastern’s handling of the situation and to “provide a forum for residents to air their concerns,” according to Kyndal Henicke, deputy chief of staff for Josh Zakim.

On campus, student-activist group Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID) have expressed support of the hearing proposed by Zakim and Jackson. The group, openly opposed to NUPD’s usage of tactical weapons since December, alleges that the availability of advanced weaponry promotes discrimination against students of color and those who are mentally ill.

“For the school to be free of discrimination, there needs to be a policy about policing. This was enacted without consulting Roxbury residents, despite the fact that NUPD’s patrol cover more areas than just our campus,” said Chelsea Canedy, a third-year biology and political science student and executive director of SAID. “We find it that campus police hold the same prejudices as other law enforcement agencies, and mentally ill students are forced to live in an environment of fear.”

Northeastern University, however, has refused to bow to outside pressure on the program. In a letter to the city councilmen, Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ralph C. Martin II argued that the training and deployment of “tactical rifles” has been carried out at nearly 60 colleges and universities nationwide, including the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University.

“We find it puzzling that some members of the city council have singled out Northeastern University,” Martin said in the letter. “NUPD officials made the Boston Police aware in mid-October, long before the issue became public… with no objections expressed.”

The university’s proximity to BPD headquarters has become part of the debate, with the commissioner arguing that officers could respond to an on-campus mass casualty incident within “5 or 6 minutes.” Martin, however, argues that this is not enough.

“FBI data suggests the vast majority of active shooter situations are over in less than 5 minutes, and a quarter are over in less than 2 minutes,” Martin wrote in the letter. If there was a shooter situation that required tactical weapons “the Northeastern campus would be relegated to ‘standing by’ mode, hoping that help arrives on time.”

Should the Boston city council decide to hold a hearing, Northeastern officials would be encouraged but not required to attend. Henicke said that councilman Zakim is hoping that the hearing will encourage feedback from the community, and “get [Northeastern] to rethink their decision, and look again at the needs of the community.”

Photo by Robert Smith