Campus cops: all the powers of real cops, none of the accountability

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What’s the point of having a separate campus police force anyway?

Honest question. Universities used to have separate jurisdiction in Austria from 1365 to 1783, so the idea is not entirely alien to me, but why can the policing needs of American universities not be dealt with by the regular police system?
Is it just a historical accident or does it actually have advantages that I’m overlooking?


With their own police, public universities sweep high rates of sexual assault, brutal, but not fatal, hazing incidents, and way too much underage drinking under the rug. It’s a tool they use to keep bad PR away, which keeps those alumni donation dollars flowing to their endowments.


So do universities also get to pass the laws about how police are organized, or why would those considerations be relevant? Does it have any advantages to powerful people outside universities?

But then, nobody where I can come from understands America’s drinking age. University students are adults. I don’t get how people can campaign for the legalization of various currently-illegal drugs and care about “underage” drinking at university campuses.


instead of maintaining a police force it would be much cheaper to lower the drinking age

and I think the European way of [drinking age] < [driving age] is much more logical: let the young ones experiment legally with alcohol before they are allowed to use one of the most dangerous machines.


I agree about the drinking age/driving age, but the problem is our serious shortcomings in public transit prevent us from swapping these ages like a civilized country.

@zathras: Public university police forces are granted the powers of state police by the state legislature because their jurisdiction is state property. Which means getting busted for possession of a small amount of marijuana on campus could get you a felony conviction whereas it would get you, at most, a $100 misdemeanor fine off campus (true here in Ann Arbor, YMMV in other university towns). Not sure who the campus PD chief reports to, but it seems like university desires come before state policing priorities.

This is the US, just follow the $$$. It answers nearly every question you may have.


What is this “accountability” you speak of, stranger?

In my land police do not possess this magic.

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Sounds as if you have oh so fine memories of your alma mater. Campus police prioritize crimes that are relevant to the university, as defined by whichever college entitiy makes those decision.

And quite honestly at my college, the security responded to an awful lot of “lockouts”.

First it is important to note that this article is almost entirely about Massachusetts Campus Police. The existence of campus police is, I think, entirely controlled by state and local law so there is little reason to expect the details of how they are set up or run to be similar across the US except that they are all in a similar niche.

I think it is fairly sensible that large universities have their own police forces, and for those forces to work closely with the police force of the surrounding jurisdiction. Large universities tend to be quite different from the surrounding police jurisdiction and big enough to support a separate force. It is very likely that the ideal procedures and training regime are significantly different from that for the surroundings.

To list some examples:
The population is extraordinarily enriched in young adult students.
There is basically just one employer, business, and landlord on a campus: the university.
There are very powerful seasonal patterns of activity and numerous special events to handle.
For public universities the vast majority of the policed area is state owned and a school, which activates some unusual laws.
The population is highly transient.
The university can give them keys to all the buildings.

Historically, as well, many university police forces in the US are 100 years old or more. Perhaps it obviously made sense to create them way back then.

However just having specific precincts and somewhat specialized officers can, I’m sure, also work well.

My personal experience with campus police on the University of Washington Campus in Seattle was positive, but limited. They were a bit less intimidating than Seattle Police. You were thought to be a lot more likely to get a ticket or arrest if a party (which always included underage drinking) got too loud and Seattle Police came to shut it down than if University Police came. They patrolled the campus, the dorms, and inside buildings at night and on weekends. As I recall neighborhoods adjacent to the campus could get police response from either the university or the city. Probably depending mostly on how busy they were for minor stuff, but campus police patrolled the campus and Seattle police patrolled the nearby areas.

I would assume that they have the same sort of accountability and transparency issues that police departments across the US have, and probably at a similar diversity of severity.

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I had exactly zero interaction with campus PD at uni. They’re a much heavier presence where I live today (Ann Arbor/UM, Ypsilanti/EMU) than they ever were in Ames back in the day. Our fabulous governor forced “interagency cooperation” across the state of a condition of municipalities being able to receive their share of state revenue, even though revenue sharing is required by the state constitution. Ever since then, campus PD are positively everywhere. They seem to do approximately fuckall, but you’re far more likely to see several more of their cruisers in a given day than municipal cruisers (assuming you’re not hanging around the police stations, of course).

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The entire idea of privately funded police is disturbing to me - I’m used to “police” being a strongly protected title that applies exclusively to some employees in the government-run/funded police force. The only alternative here are security guards, who have no more power than a random citizen: They can retain someone they have observed breaking the law but have to call the police for anything beyond that.

Practically speaking, that means the Uni of Oslo employs security guards on campus, but they can’t do much beyond collecting evidence and calling the (real, normal, Oslo city) police. Student housing is handled like any other rental housing - maybe a security guard in the area, but not much more.

Diluting the concept of “police” by having grey-zone private actors seems almost dystopic.


Keep in mind that in The Colonies you can fire a gun before you can drive a car. You can also die in the military and vote a full three years before you can drink.

From the outside looking in, very little of what America does makes sense.


Looking forward to the next iteration of TV cop drama…


“Looks like this guy has…”

( •_•)>⌐■-■


flunked out!



Also, student housing is scattered around the city and mostly not owned by the universities. The same is true most places in the UK for example. Can anyone say whether this is also true for the US? I did my undergrad at a rural agricultural college in England that had a large under-18 population living on campus alongside undergrads, but there was still only security guards. If anything serious happened the police was called and there was absolutely no need for a dedicated police force.

Re: student housing.

Depends on the institution.

Most US “universities” i expect have significant numbers of students living both on and off campus. The smaller ‘colleges’ might have no on campus housing or require all students to live in on campus housing.

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