In light of a campus incident last month, in which a student carrying an airsoft gun touched off a police manhunt and campuswide alert, UCI Police Chief Paul Henisey sat down to clarify the university’s weapons policy.
Q. What’s UCI’s policy regarding weapons on campus?
A. Most weapons are prohibited on campus – that includes any knife that has a blade longer than 2½ inches, metal knuckles and nunchakus, to name just a few. State law prohibits anyone from bringing loaded firearms on a UC campus, but we also have an administrative policy against any weapon that fires projectiles using non-explosive means – these include BB guns, paintball guns and compressed air (airsoft) rifles.
Q. What’s the punishment for those found in possession of a weapon?
A. It depends on the weapon; the punishment can be a fine or imprisonment – or both. The California Penal Code states that bringing a loaded firearm onto the grounds of a UC campus or property without written permission is a felony. Those carrying a paintball or other play gun can face staff or student disciplinary action; they also can be arrested for disrupting university business.
Q. What should you do if you see someone on campus with a weapon?
A. Call 911 immediately. That’s what a student did in the May incident involving an airsoft gun – he looked out his Mesa Court dorm window and saw another student carrying what looked like a rifle. It turned outthe student was going to an airsoft game.
Q. What happens after you receive a weapon report?
A. Because the potential for danger is high, we take these reports very seriously and act on them immediately. We always have uniformed officers on campus, and they’ll attempt to locate the person. The problem is that many of these play weapons resemble real firearms. Kids remove the red tips that identify weapons as airsoft guns because they don’t want to be seen hiding in the bushes during a game, so we can’t tell it’s not real without close examination. If someone carrying one of these guns is contacted by a police officer, he or she needs to immediately follow the officer’s directions. Police officers have certain safety precautions to follow, and we would likely approach the person with our guns drawn. People should give real thought to the value of owning these guns – there could be tragic consequences if handled or displayed improperly.
Q. How do you notify the campus if you determine there’s a real threat?
A. We have different ways to update the campus community during an incident, including zotALERT, ZotMail, the UCI Web site (www.uci.edu) and KUCI radio. We’re looking to enhance those venues and to make greater use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, because that’s where a lot of students go for information.
Q. When is it necessary to lock down a campus?
A. The term ‘lockdown’ is a misnomer. We can’t lock down the campus. Some classrooms don’t even have locks – they’re not designed to lock people in because of fire evacuation regulations. Instead we issue a “secure in place” alert that tells people to stay in the classroom or find a safe place, to be aware of their surroundings and to report suspicious activities or people.
Q. Any final advice for staying safe?
A. We’re fortunate because we have a very safe campus. Incidents of violent crime are rare, but we do have property crime – people breaking into residences and vehicles, especially if they’re unlocked. So it’s still important to lock your doors and be aware of your surroundings to minimize any risk of becoming a victim.