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date: 22 July 2018

Campus Policing

Summary and Keywords

Since 9/11 and the burgeoning number of mass shootings across the United States (one of the more recent such tragedies, at a Parkland, Florida high school in February 2018, resulted in 17 people being murdered, 17 wounded, and worldwide student protests for gun control), police at all levels and of all jurisdictions have had to train and prepare for security threats and attacks of all types. Certainly, policing on postsecondary campuses is no exception. Recognizing that campuses are no longer wholly safe, violence-free enclaves, higher education administrators have necessarily sought highly trained and equipped campus police agencies to provide a safer environment for their academic communities.

Policing on college and university (postsecondary) campuses has a unique history, philosophy, role, and functions. Specifically, from their humble beginnings in the early 1900s through the social and campus unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, and until today, their administration, jurisdiction, authority, methods, legal mandates, technologies, and personnel have had to evolve with the times and with new challenges. In addition, like their local and state counterparts, they have come to embrace community policing and problem solving as well as develop plans for all types of critical incidents, both acts of nature and acts of terrorism. In short, history has shown that these organizations must be prepared for the entire gamut of human and natural disorder.

Keywords: authority, Clery Act, community policing, jurisdiction, legal considerations, problem solving, role, technology

A Form of Special-Purpose, State-Level Law Enforcement: Policing on Postsecondary Campuses

A number of investigative, traffic-related, and other special-purpose, state-level law enforcement units have developed over time in the United States to meet particular needs. For example, there are state agencies that enforce laws pertaining to alcoholic beverages, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and commercial vehicles. Furthermore, most, if not all, states have units and agents that investigate white-collar crimes, fraud against or by consumers, organized crime, and crimes against children and seniors.

A ubiquitous type of such special-purpose, state law enforcement entity concerns that which exists on postsecondary (college and university) campuses (which will be the focus of this entry, excluding policing at K–12 schools). Postsecondary institutions now enroll more than 19 million people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016) at about 4,700 degree-granting institutions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017a). According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the 861 law enforcement agencies serving campuses with 2,500 or more students employ about 32,000 persons on a full-time basis, including about 15,000 sworn police officers. This equates to about 4.1 officers per 1,000 students (Reaves, 2015), as compared with 2.1 officers per 1,000 population in U.S. local police departments (Reaves, May 2015).

Historically, postsecondary campuses were relatively bucolic, crime-free environments (with the exception of the mostly benign mid-1900s panty raids fad and occasional deflating of police vehicle tires) (Southern Illinois University, 2017). Students and faculty felt safe and were unlikely to be violently victimized. However, campus serenity largely changed in August 1966, when Charles Whitman began shooting from a tower at the University of Texas at Austin, killing 16 people and wounding 21; with that tragedy, the mass killing concept was invented, and college and university campuses were forever changed (Texas State Historical Association, 2010). Whitman’s rampage also marked the beginning of the realization that police were largely unprepared and outgunned in active-shooter incidents, a realization that led to formation of highly trained/armed special weapons and tactics (SWAT) units (Snow, 1996).1 Since 2013, there have been about 120 incidents on U.S. postsecondary campuses in which someone committed a firearms-related act resulting in injury or death, or attempted or completed suicide (Everytown, 2017). The deadliest mass campus shooting in U.S. history occurred in 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), where a student killed 32 students and wounded 15 (CNN, 2017). From a historical crime perspective, then, today’s campuses represent a vastly changed environment.

It should be emphasized, however, that U.S. postsecondary campuses are still comparatively safe. Indeed, the number of reported violent crimes on campuses is 42.3 per 100,000 students, and the number of property crimes is 791.2 per 100,000 students (U.S. Department of Justice, 2016a). That compares with 386 violent crimes per 100,000 population and 2,451 property crimes per 100,000 population in the United States at large (U.S. Department of Justice, 2016b). Still, it is evident that today’s campus police administrators must ensure that their personnel are trained to address any type of critical incident or disaster, either human or natural in origin.

This discussion provides an overview of how policing developed in postsecondary educational settings, from their humble beginnings in the early 1900s through the social and campus unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. Also presented are a contemporary profile of campus policing, including philosophy and role, authority and jurisdiction, and personnel (hiring, training, equipment); a look at how campuses implement and practice community policing and problem solving, and some uses of technologies in those efforts; a review of important considerations such as the arming of campus officers, mandatory reporting of campus crime, and the duty of care and special relationship between campus police and their clientele; and an overview of challenges posed by terrorism as well as case studies.

Campus Policing: Origins

Humble Beginnings

As noted earlier, with respect to crime, U.S. college and university campuses were once idyllic settings, and until the mid-1900s there was little need for campus law enforcement organizations. Educational institutions handled most campus disciplinary problems internally and asked for local police assistance only in the event of serious criminal violations. During this period, there was a heavy reliance on a “watchman” system, which primarily used men who were retired from other jobs to protect university property from fire, water, or other damage. [There was one notable exception: in 1894, Yale University became the first academic institution to hire a campus patrol. This development was prompted by a rumor circulating through the city of New Haven that Yale medical students were removing buried bodies from local cemeteries for use as cadavers. When a mass riot ensued and many students and townspeople were injured, two New Haven officers were assigned to the Yale campus (Yale University Police Department, 2008).]

To be sure, before the 1960s, police at postsecondary institutions were not intended to function as they do today. Campuses did not have high crime rates, nor were there concerns about student safety and security stemming from crimes in residence halls, mass demonstrations, gang influences, drug or alcohol abuse problems, or other social problems that visit campuses today. Eventually, however, the nation’s campuses became a microcosm of the larger society, and these once pastoral places became beset with behaviors, events, and problems that required a stronger authoritative presence. Recognizing these issues and aware of the need to provide a safer environment for campus students and personnel, university administrators opted to provide this presence.

Therefore, during the 1950s, with the unprecedented growth in student enrollment and the physical size of campuses, postsecondary institutions began hiring people—often retired municipal police officers—to serve as “campus security” officers. The officers’ duties during this decade were primarily custodial. Indeed, these officers typically had no more power to control the behavior of people than did ordinary citizens, and the doctrine of in loco parentis (authority of the state to act in place of the parent) guided the actions of campus security organizations (Sloan, 1992).

The 1960s and 1970s

Legal, social, and international events in the 1960s and early 1970s dramatically changed the need for security and policing at postsecondary campuses in the United States. As social and campus unrest grew, universities relied on public police forces to handle campus crime and disorder. But in case after case, the consequences of calling in city police to deal with campus disorder were disastrous: the presence of the city police often exacerbated conflict and polarized the campus (Skolnick, 1969). Soon a growing number of postsecondary administrators began to realize that unless they took measures to keep order on campus, outside police agencies would be forced to do so for them. The idea of campus security forces, which better articulated with college norms and values, naturally appealed to university administrators (Powell, 1971). Therefore, it was during this period of social upheaval that many campuses developed their own police departments, and by the early 1970s, officers at state institutions were beginning to possess full arrest powers granted by statute or through local deputization (Brubacher & Willis, 1968; Gelber, 1972; Esposito & Stormer, 1989).

Concomitantly, it was deemed important that the image of campus officers as being old, overweight, and interested only in fire prevention, door-shaking, and issuance of parking tickets had to change (Webb, 1975) and that sworn, trained law enforcers be hired (Sloan, 1992). Therefore, continuing into the 1980s and early 1990s, campus officers became increasingly autonomous. Campus police organizations developed a greater similarity to urban police departments in their administration, structure, and operations; they continued to require high educational and training standards for their personnel; they offered a more dedicated career path for employees; and they generally became an increasingly integral part of American postsecondary campuses (cf. Peak, 1988; Sloan, 1992).

Certainly, the past 20 years have witnessed significant changes in public expectations and the practices of all forms of policing, including that on campuses. U.S. policing in the early 21st century is in the community policing era (campus police and their community policing efforts are discussed below), where the police focus on working collaboratively with the community to address crime and disorder (Peak & Glensor, 2008; Oliver, 2004; Clarke, 2004; Goldstein, 1990). The attacks of September 11, 2001, forever changed the way police viewed domestic security and planned for acts of terrorism. In addition, gangs and drugs have nearly blanketed the nation and require different methods and tactics. And on some campuses, major incidents—including murders of sworn officers and students—have compelled the police to embrace a more hardline perspective on their role and function.

Campus Policing Today: A Profile

The violence that is occurring on America’s K–12 and postsecondary campuses (and in the United States at large) has increased people’s fears for their safety. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll found that one in four Americans fears being a victim of a mass shooting (Newport, 2017).

Philosophy and Role

Anyone who has ever visited a postsecondary campus knows that the clientele and infrastructure of those educational spaces are vastly different from noncampus venues. For example, the clientele (i.e., students, faculty) are highly educated and seek the social and cultural opportunities and lifestyle that are unique to this environment. They also assume that their campus will be a place of peace and safety, and they may take a heightened interest in crime prevention, especially in terms of protecting their persons and their property.

The population density of these settings—particularly during major social, athletic, and cultural events, which can number in the tens of thousands of attendees—is often quite high. Greek and other organizations often conduct parties on or near campus property. Moreover, the students, faculty, and staff of these institutions traverse the campuses at all hours of the day and night as they attend classes and special events, engage in research, work in laboratories, and so on. In addition, the thousands of vehicles parked on campus during these events all require security and a system of enforcement. That the educational setting is densely populated, has many remote and/or secluded locations (e.g., in parking garages, libraries, and other buildings), and contains valuable property (both personal and technological) will not be lost on anyone wishing to encroach on this peaceful environment to rob, plunder, rape, or do worse.

How, then, must such a unique environment be policed? Certainly, the philosophy and methods of those who protect such environments, like the clientele and their activities, must also be unique. To begin, there must be a service, rather than law enforcement, orientation, including a proactive commitment to crime prevention rather than a reactive investigation of crimes. While they must enforce all manner of laws and regulations concerning state laws, student conduct, and parking, as well as respond to calls for service, write reports, and conduct investigations, these officers are just as likely to be providing security at major events, checking that buildings and campus resources are secure, escorting people to their vehicles after late-night classes, giving directions to visitors, and unlocking faculty and staff offices and classrooms. The potential for human emergency or a natural disaster is always present. Therefore, while “walking softly,” campus police must also be prepared to deal with all manner of emergencies and criminal behaviors.

And yet, some agencies still struggle with their role definition. In the eyes of some, the role of campus policing is yet to be defined. Consider, for example, the DuBose/Tensing case discussed later, concerning whether or not campus officers should be armed—or even exist. It is clear that some postsecondary institutions are still grappling with the issue of armed sworn officers patrolling campuses.

In a perfect world, campus officers could remain true to their roots, having primarily the aforementioned service orientation, and should “walk softly” among their highly educated and generally very law-abiding clientele, while eschewing the harder image and specialization (e.g., special weapons and tactics teams) of their municipal and county cousins. Once again, however, today’s reality is that these officers must be trained, equipped, and prepared to deal with any types of crime or disaster whether induced by humans or an act of nature. Their role has indeed changed, and it must continue to evolve.

Another area where the local and the campus police may have role differences concerns how offenders should be handled. Notwithstanding their political roots, and perhaps occasional pressure to not arrest the “wrong” politically connected person, the local police normally have fairly clear-cut guidelines as to whom they will arrest. But on campuses, historically the range of treatment of offenders has been less defined; certainly these institutions have always had the latitude of referring a criminal matter involving a student to the civil authorities for prosecution. It is probably fair to say that many campuses traditionally had unofficial policies of handling most criminal matters involving students in-house, through the campus disciplinary process. To be sure, many misdemeanors committed on campus can be of the relatively harmless “prank” variety and can and have been dealt with in-house. Felonies, however, are another matter entirely. Although there have not been any comprehensive studies concerning how campus police deal with their offenders, Bordner and Petersen (1983, p. 209) found that 94% of campus police officers felt that all students and others “should suffer the consequences of their actions.”

Certainly, differential treatment of campus offenders could present a role dilemma for the individual officer, who may not know “when to be aggressive and when not to” (Bordner & Petersen, 1983, p. 215). However, many campus police administrators apparently tend to agree that students should not escape legal responsibility for committing felony offenses simply by virtue of their having paid the price of tuition. One midwestern campus police director put it as follows:

[M]ore and more universities have come to treat crime on campus more like crime in the surrounding community and less like in-house “incidents.” The doctrine of the university acting “in loco parentis” has all but disappeared. As a result, students are coming more and more to expect to be treated the same as any other member of society. A 19-year old student who shoplifts from the campus bookstore should expect the same treatment as a 19-year old auto mechanic who shoplifts from that same bookstore. It is . . . fundamentally wrong for the student to be taken to the dean’s office and receive a one-year academic probation while the auto mechanic goes to jail.

(Denney, 1992, p. 6)

Some postsecondary institutions may still prefer to keep their crime problems in-house. Being concerned with their public image, some observers (Seng & Koehler, 1993; Seng, 1995) feel that these institutions may attempt to look for loopholes in the Campus Security Act of 1990 (also known as the Clery Act, discussed below) when publishing their crime information. Of course, it would be unlawful and very unwise and imprudent to adopt such strategy.


Authority and Jurisdiction

The first public misperception about campus policing that must be addressed is the belief that—like days of old—these officers are nonsworn (i.e., they have no powers of arrest) security-minded door-shakers (i.e., they only check buildings and other property). The postsecondary student who believes he or she can flaunt the law in the presence of campus officers will likely soon be disabused of this notion: about 92% of public colleges and universities use sworn officers (compared to 38% of private postsecondary institutions). Furthermore, nearly all (94%) sworn campus police officers are authorized to carry a sidearm. In addition, they may typically carry chemical or pepper spray (94%) and a baton (93%).

Because many colleges and universities own properties that are removed from the main campus proper (to include policing functions that encompass fraternity and sorority houses), most (81%) sworn campus police officers are granted patrol and arrest jurisdiction that extends beyond their individual campus boundaries. In 86% of agencies, the arrest jurisdiction includes properties adjacent to campus, and in 71%, the jurisdiction includes areas outside the area surrounding the campus. In 70% of agencies, the area of off-campus arrest jurisdiction is defined through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or mutual aid agreement (MAA) (Reaves, 2015). However, while some states grant their campus police officers limited authority while off campus, such officers are generally allowed to exercise full police powers if, say, engaged in a valid chase, under the so-called hot pursuit doctrine (Smith, 1988).

Hiring and Training

A majority of the campuses with sworn police officers also use nonsworn security officers; overall, 41% of campuses are served by both types of officers (at very large campuses, nonsworn are typically used for building security). About a third of campuses (32%) are served by nonsworn officers exclusively. Among the campuses using only nonsworn officers, about 1 in 10 has armed officers. Nearly all (95%) of these schools operate their own campus law enforcement agency using officers employed by the institution. Those institutions that do not operate their own campus law enforcement agency typically contract with a private security firm (in 77% of the agencies) (Reaves, 2015).

Typically, sworn officers must undergo a rigorous screening process prior to hiring. First, about one in five sworn officers works for an agency that has some type of college requirement for new officers. About 3% of sworn officers are employed by an agency with a 4-year degree requirement for new sworn officers, and 9% by an agency with a 2-year degree requirement (Reaves, 2015).

A majority of sworn officers work in agencies that use a variety of screening methods for hiring sworn officers. The five screening methods generally used in all agencies include personal interviews, criminal record checks, reference checks, background investigations, and driving record checks. Three-fourths of sworn officers are administered medical exams, drug tests, and psychological evaluations. Screening methods used for about half of sworn officers include credit history checks, physical agility tests, personality inventories, and written aptitude tests. On average, sworn campus police officers are required to complete about four times the amount of training as nonsworn officers prior to employment. Specifically, the average training requirement for entry-level sworn officers is about 1,027 hours (about two-thirds being in the classroom and a third in the field), while nonsworn officers are required to complete about 230 hours of training on average (typically split almost evenly between classroom and field training (Reaves, 2015).

Ninety-six percent of agencies provide 24-hour patrol coverage with uniformed officers at all times; 11% use officers from local law enforcement agencies at times to increase patrol coverage on campus or assist with special events; 4% of agencies use officers from private security firms to supplement patrol coverage, and 24% use private security officers (Reaves, 2015).


In addition to sidearms, sworn officers are authorized to employ chemical or pepper spray (94%) and a baton (93%). Some agencies also use motorcycle patrols (16%) and dog (K-9) units, and even a mobile command post vehicle for critical incidents. About 4 in 10 agencies authorize their sworn officers to use a conducted energy device (such as a Taser), while half provide their officers with handheld electronic devices (such as smart phones) and about three-fourths (71%) use either in-car computers or handheld devices (Reaves, 2015).

Overall, patrol officers in 71% of these agencies use either in-field computers or handheld devices. A majority of agencies on both public (82%) and private (66%) campuses use computer-aided dispatch (or CAD, which makes it possible for a range of data analysis concerning calls for service (where, when, type, response time, and so on). Most agencies serving public campuses also use computers for interagency information sharing (70%) and in-field reporting (60%). About a third of the agencies serving public (36%) and private (29%) campuses use computers for crime mapping, information sharing (69%), and completing reports in the field (59%) (Reaves, 2015).

Community Policing and Problem Solving

Community policing and problem solving are well suited to colleges and universities. Indeed, police, academics, and college and university administrators all widely believe that a properly administered community policing program is tailor-made for these environments (Glavin, 2013). Given that a key characteristic of community policing is a closer degree of cooperation between police and community members in finding ways to mutually deal with crime, community policing on postsecondary campuses therefore embraces collaboration with student/faculty/staff members and groups.

According to Fisher and Sloan (2007), modern community policing programs on college campuses have their roots in the 1980s, when several campus crime victims and their families brought lawsuits alleging that inadequate campus security contributed to the death or injury of students. Public policymakers at the federal and state levels began focusing their attention on campus security, one result of which was enactment of the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, as amended (also known as the Clery Act). Finally, according to Margolis and March (2008), policing a postsecondary campus requires a level of sensitivity and professionalism that will resonate within that environment, and only through a combination of enforcement and education can the campus police attempt to achieve a crime-free campus. Campus police, like their state and local counterparts, must adhere to the tenets of preventive, relationship-oriented, community-focused policing if they are to achieve their mission.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services defines community policing as

a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

(Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2014, p. 1)

About 8 in 10 campus policing agencies serving 5,000 or more students have incorporated community policing elements into their overall campus security policy. In addition, most such agencies have personnel designated to address general crime prevention (91%), rape prevention (86%), drug education (79%), alcohol education (78%), stalking (75%), victim assistance (72%), and intimate partner violence (69%), and self-defense programs (69%) (Reaves, 2015).

One key tenet of community policing is the assignment of patrol officers to specific locations for sustained periods of time, so that officers will better know the people, problems, and physical layout of their beat areas. For these reasons, about 6 in 10 agencies give officers responsibility for specific geographic areas on campus, conduct joint patrols with local law enforcement (62%), conduct a ride-along program (60%), and have a property identification program (Reaves, 2015).

About half (54%) of agencies serving campuses with 5,000 or more students have upgraded their technology to support the analysis of campus crime problems. They also actively encourage officers to engage in problem-solving projects on campus (51%), use citizen feedback in developing community policing strategies (51%), and conduct intelligence-led policing (49%) and environmental analysis to assess precursors to crime (48%). Furthermore, about 9 in 10 campus law enforcement agencies provide a personal safety escort service—about three-fourths of which are staffed with nonsworn security officers (Reaves, 2015).

How to Implement and Practice?

The development of a community policing program begins with the agency’s mission statement, which includes clearly stated values, beliefs, and goals of the campus police organization. A community policing program includes the following elements:

  • Strong leadership of the agency to develop and implement the concept

  • Development of sworn officer and nonsworn staff training in community relations and problem solving

  • Development and maintenance of formal outreach programs to student, faculty, and other organizations on the campus

  • Provision of specialized training for some staff members, such as crime prevention, drug and alcohol recognition and prevention, and sexual assault prevention

  • Development and provision of general crime prevention programs and education to the campus community.

  • Regular engagement with key stakeholder groups on the campus. (Glavin, 2013, p. 29)

Surveys by the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that most large colleges and universities in the country offer crime prevention programs. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools advocated the use of the SARA (scanning, analysis, response, and assessment) problem-solving process for designing, developing, and evaluating substance abuse prevention programs on college campuses. Campuses first perform surveys or obtain data concerning actual levels of reported crime; then, if a problem is discerned, authorities work to develop appropriate responses. Getting campus involvement from a number of constituencies is critical to the success of such prevention programs. These groups include students, residential life, faculty, marketing and communications specialists, and senior administrators.

Michigan State University (MSU) was among the first universities to develop a community policing philosophy and structure, transitioning to this mission and strategy in late 1986. The chief of police invited all department members to give input into the development of a new mission statement, which emphasized not only a safe but also an “ethical, people-oriented” environment. Operationally, the adoption of a community policing philosophy was carried out by assigning dedicated community policing officers to specific areas of the campus. Eventually, the campus was divided into six community policing areas, each with its own team of officers, a local office, and phone. Each team had a supervisor, two team leaders, five officers, one detective, and a representative of both the parking and safety services divisions.

(Glavin, 2013, p. 30)

Most campus policing agencies have personnel specially designated to provide crime prevention services. Specifically, personnel are designated to address general crime prevention (91%), general rape prevention (86%), date rape prevention (84%), self-defense training (76%), stalking (75%), victim assistance (72%), and intimate partner violence (69%). In addition, about four in five agencies had personnel addressing drug (79%) and alcohol education (78%) (Reaves, 2015).

Agencies also disseminate crime prevention information to increase citizen preparedness for critical incidents (90% of public institutions, compared to 81% private), have formal intelligence-sharing agreements with other law enforcement agencies (74% versus 62%), and have a preparedness plan for a school shooting (86% versus 81%). Private campuses (85%) and public campuses (81%) designed or revised a preparedness plan for an emergency evacuation (Reaves, 2015).

All but a few campuses report they had a mass notification system available for students, faculty, and staff to alert them about a situation and provide critical information and instructions. About two-thirds (63%) of the campuses have opt-in systems that allow first-year students to enroll voluntarily, and about 70% of campuses have the same availability for faculty, administrators, and staff. Campus mass notification systems use a wide variety of methods for alerting the campus community and conveying emergency information and instructions, the most common being e-mail (100% of students covered), text messages (99%), and websites (98%) (Reaves, 2015).

What Do Campus Community Policing Officers Do?

The selection and hiring of campus police officers must take into account the identification of characteristics important to community policing. Officers must be concerned about problems of crime and disorder; indeed, they must inherently bring a service orientation to the job and be:

  • able to bring a community/neighborhood perspective to their role, making contacts with faculty, staff, and students in the campus community and working with them to make the campus safer for all;

  • well trained in all facets of policing in order to be prepared for any type of exigency (including shooting incidents) and be confident in their abilities to be innovative and bring a wide range of responses to campus problems; and

  • resourceful in the job, well organized, and able to analyze problems and issues in the abstract (Glavin, 2013, pp. 30–31)

Campus officers must also be objective in their decision making, using all available data and being efficient and equitable to all. A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found that campus police were more likely than local police agencies to assess recruits’ community relations skills prior to hiring them. Among the skills more likely to be assessed were analytical problem-solving skills, understanding of cultural diversity, and assessment of skills related to mediation and conflict management (Glavin, 2013).

Utilizing IT for Crime Prevention Strategies and Analysis

Given that campuses can be magnets for persons with criminal intent, crime prevention should obviously be accorded a high priority. Means must be developed for making these settings less conducive to unwanted or illegal activities, while making criminal activity less attractive to offenders. A primary objective of crime prevention on campuses is to make it harder to commit a crime. This objective can be accomplished by:

  • Employing target hardening (installing locks and high-tech security systems)

  • Controlling access (installing barriers and designing walkways, paths, and roads so that unwanted users are prevented from entering vulnerable areas)

  • Increasing the risks associated with the crime (making offenders believe they will be caught, using video cameras)

  • Having informal surveillance (e.g., building attendants, maintenance workers, and police officers)

  • Using natural surveillance (people going about their daily activities, making potential offenders feel exposed and vulnerable)

  • Reducing the rewards (i.e., not keeping large amounts of cash on the premises, keeping valuable property in a secure area overnight, identifying property to establish ownership)

  • Removing provocations for crime (e.g., by improving lighting) (Department of Homeland Security, 2012)

An example of a university’s array of crime prevention programs is California State University, Northridge. The campus police crime prevention unit provides safety workshops on safety issues such as residential security, identity theft prevention, and pepper spray defense. Several of the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) System’s self-defense courses are offered each year. In addition, the crime prevention unit conducts more than 160 programs annually to highlight topics such as bicycle security and laptop theft prevention

(Glavin, 2013, p. 30).

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is also an important concept on campuses and includes using proper design and the environment to reduce fear and incidence of crime. This goal is accomplished by approaches such as natural access control (doors, shrubs, fences, and gates to deny admission to a crime target); natural surveillance (e.g., the proper placement of windows, lighting, and landscaping to increase the ability to observe intruders); and territorial reinforcement (using such elements as sidewalks, landscaping, and porches to distinguish between public and private areas and help users exhibit signs of “ownership” that send “hands-off” messages to would-be offenders) (Peak & Barthe, 2009).

Many crime prevention efforts require crime analysis information, which can be accomplished by using another process that is rapidly spreading across the United States: CompStat (for “computer statistics”). CompStat is used to collect, analyze, and map crime data on a regular basis, and to hold police managers accountable for their performance. Introduced by the New York City Police Department in 1994, CompStat’s key elements are accurate and timely intelligence, effective tactics, rapid deployment of personnel and resources, and relentless follow-up and assessment (Grant & Terry, 2005).

Crime Mapping and Prevention

Campus police administrators seeking to adopt crime mapping technologies are faced with distinct challenges. One of these challenges involves attempting to map crimes at the campus level, many of which remain relatively small geographic entities. For the crime-mapping process to lend fruitful results, incident locations need to be very discrete and well defined, so that spatial analyses can distinguish between different areas of the campus. For example, if campus police incident reports only list the university’s main address as the crime location, crime mapping will be of little use because all of the incidents will be geocoded to a single point on the street layer (Peak & Barthe, 2009).

Campus police must therefore adopt crime-reporting practices that identify specific locations on their campuses when reporting incidents. The more specificity when recording crime locations across campuses, the more information the crime -mapping process will produce. Car break-ins, for example, should not just be attributed to a parking deck but to locations within the parking structure (floor, area, space number, etc.). In short, crime-mapping practices on college campuses must be based on specific locations across campus and must not simply rely on the traditional practice of geocoding to street addresses. (Interested readers should consult the Police Foundation’s Crime Mapping News [Volume 7, Issue 1, 2005], which is dedicated to crime mapping and geographic information system applications for college campuses.)

Unlike municipal police departments that patrol city streets and respond to calls for service across all hours and days of the week, campus police departments face specific policing challenges based on the layout and “rhythm” of campus life. For example, there are greater chances that alcohol-related events will occur in or near the dormitories during weekend nights than in the cafeteria during Tuesday’s lunch period. Campus police departments should therefore be very familiar with the ebb and flow of their campus communities, analyzing the times at which people circulate on campus, which are the most popular or heavily visited venues, and the dynamics behind special events such as football games, pep rallies, or similar school functions (Peak & Barthe, 2009).

Are some events more prone to attract problems? Are there problem-prone areas on campus that facilitate rowdy student behaviors (i.e., proximity to bars or public streets) that routinely pose safety problems for students and residents alike? Using the aforementioned SARA problem-solving model, campus police agencies can identify the source and location of most problems on campus and eventually develop and adopt effective crime prevention strategies to reduce future events. For example, long walkways or desolate parts of campus can be made less frightening and crime conducive by installing “Code Blue Phone Kiosks” that allow instant communication with emergency personnel. Closed-circuit televisions are also important crime-fighting tools, as they provide more “eyes on the street” and increase campus guardianship levels. In sum, college campuses present a special population with particular spatial and temporal characteristics, and police departments need to adopt responses tailored to these unique needs (Peak & Barthe, 2009).

Figure 1 shows the breadth of community policing and problem-solving activities found in campus police agencies.

Campus PolicingClick to view larger

Figure 1. Community policing activities of campus law enforcement agencies on 4-year campuses with 2,500 or more students, 2004–2005 and 2011–2012.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies, 2011–2012 and 2004–2005.

Legal Considerations

Crime and violence on U.S. postsecondary campuses have resulted in significant legislative deliberation and action in several areas, two of which are discussed here: the movement to allow people to carry firearms on campus, and the tabulation and reporting of campus crime.

Armed Students?

Following the Virginia Tech and other campus active-shooter tragedies, postsecondary institutions were compelled to reconsider their approaches to campus safety and to engage in better monitoring and treatment of students with emotional problems. Also in the wake of Virginia Tech, many colleges and universities (including Rhode Island’s Brown University, three Iowa state universities, and several institutions in Massachusetts) initiated discussions concerning whether their campus police officers should be armed (e.g., see Christiansen, 2007;, 2008; McBride, 2009).

As another consequence of active-shooter situations, a number of states have eased their existing firearms regulations and allow concealed weapons on campuses. Indeed, from 2013 to 2017, campus safety became a hot issue across the United States; in 2013 alone, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry on campus in some regard, and in the 2014 legislative session, another 14 states introduced such legislation. While many such attempts failed to be enacted into law, at present 10 states allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses (Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin) (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017).

The Clery Act

The 1998 Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, codified at 20 USC 1092 (f), was originally enacted in 1990 by Congress as the Campus Security Act; it was later amended and renamed the Clery Act (for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who was raped and murdered in her residence hall in 1986). This federal law requires colleges and universities to disclose certain timely and annual information about campus crime and security policies. All public and private postsecondary educational institutions participating in federal student aid programs are subject to this law.

The act has also modified, professionalized, and made more transparent today’s campus policing operations as well. Prior to 1990, statistics were informally kept, and due to the insular nature of many campus law enforcement agencies, parents, students, faculty, and staff were unaware of potential crime problems on campuses. Because of its federal reporting requirement, the act improved the recordkeeping practices of many campus police agencies and directed administrators to address crime problems quickly and efficiently. Some agencies rely on sworn personnel for required data collection, while others utilize civilian personnel.

Some researchers, however, point out that the reporting system has certain flaws. For example, while thefts are the most common campus crimes, they do not have to be reported, and off-campus crimes involving students are exempt from the reporting requirement (Seng, 1995). While the act mandates an annual reporting requirement, it also states that potential students, parents, and members of the community are allowed to request crime related information at any time.

[Note that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program’s “Crime in the United States” includes annual crime statistics for universities and colleges. For example, the 2017 publication for postsecondary campuses may be found at the FBI: Uniform Crime Reporting website. Also, the U.S. Department of Education provides crime, safety, and security data for postsecondary institutions at the US Department of Education Campus Safety and Security website.

Other Legal Considerations

Two areas of legal responsibility apply to all law enforcement agencies, including those at postsecondary institutions: duty of care and special relationships.

Duty of Care

The “public duty doctrine” is derived from common law and holds that police have no duty to protect the general public from harm, absent a “special relationship.” Generally, the legal duties of police can arise from many sources, including laws, customs, court decisions, and agency policies. Today the law imputes to colleges and universities a duty to provide reasonably adequate security and protection. This duty may arise in two ways: either under a “negligence” theory based on tort law or on a breach of contract theory based on some assurance that the institution has given as to protection or safety. Security protection can take many forms, of course, such as the presence of police officers, locks, fences, security guards, lighting of campus and parking garages, trimming or elimination of shrubbery, provision of monitoring devices and emergency telephones, and use of campus escort services. But of equal importance is ensuring that classes, residence halls, libraries, cafeterias, and parking lots are not situated in remote and unlit places and are safely accessible and constantly watched (Peak & Barthe, 2009).

Once a campus is on notice of the “foreseeability” of criminal harm because of a history of criminal incidents at a location, the institution has a duty not only to warn but also to use due care to provide reasonably adequate security protection. How much is reasonably adequate? The answer must be determined by the facts and circumstances of each individual case, given the history and location of the place and other pertinent risk data.

An early case illustrating the need for adequate security measures is Miller v. State of New York (467 N.E.2d 493, 1984). In this case, a university was held liable for personal injuries sustained by a rape victim in a dormitory that was not properly secured. Because of the special relationship between the university and a resident student, the state institution was not exempt from the charge of negligence (Marschall & Peak, 1986).

Foreseeability need not be based on a history of campus crimes, however. Other sorts of danger may suffice. For example, in Mullins v. Pine Manor College (389 Mass. 47, 1983), Massachusetts’ highest court addressed a crime much like that in Miller but took a different posture as to the foreseeability issue. Lisa Mullins was awakened in her dormitory room by a male intruder who raped her; although prior known offenses on the campus were negligible, the jury found foreseeability based on, among other things, the proximity of the campus to transportation lines leading to downtown and college policies allowing men to stay overnight in women’s dorms. The court also noted that the college had itself acknowledged the danger of crime in its orientation program for new students, that dorm rooms could be unlocked with credit cards or knives, that fences around the campus were inadequate, and that no assurances were provided that two security guards were actually patrolling.

Special Relationships

Special relationships are those in which the police know or should have known there was a likelihood of harm to someone if they failed to do their duty; such relationships are thus defined by the circumstances surrounding an injury or damage.

A special relationship can be based on:

  1. 1. whether the officer could have foreseen that he or she was expected to take action in a given situation to prevent injury (e.g., a campus officer observes a male trying to enter a female’s dorm room with a credit card; the male states (falsely) that he resides there, the officer fails to check out his story and leaves, and the female resident is subsequently attacked and raped).

  2. 2. departmental policy or guidelines that prescribe or prohibit a certain course of action (e.g., officers are instructed to frequently patrol women’s dormitories but failed to do so).

  3. 3. the spatial and temporal proximity of the defendant–officer behavior to the injury damage (e.g., a student is observed walking on campus who appears to be extremely intoxicated, is stopped by an officer and questioned, released, and soon thereafter is fatally struck by a car when walking into a nearby street) (Peak & Barthe, 2009).

Addressing Terrorism

In the wake of national security threats stemming from September 11, 2001, police departments nationwide have implemented new information-sharing systems and developed protocols for improving responses to terrorist attacks. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security developed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) (e.g., see Peak, Gaines, & Glensor, 2019), designed to standardize information-sharing protocols and to improve responses to large-scale domestic incidents. Many campus law enforcement agencies have used this system to improve their ability to handle emergencies. According to Peak et al. (2008), 71% of campus police departments have a policy regarding NIMS protocols, and 77% are in fact using NIMS. In terms of readiness against threats of weapons of mass destruction, 7% of agencies reported having received some federal funding for assisting in that effort, 4% had purchased emergency response equipment, and 11% had instituted some policies or guidelines concerning response procedures. “Training and education” was the most common response (71%) concerning preparations for dealing with the potential threat of a serious terrorist attack.

With the advent of computers and technology, campus police administrators have an added responsibility to become “cyber-cops.” While incidents of theft and assault may be the traditional and prevalent crime problems on college campuses, campus police in the early 21st century are faced with the growing problem of computer-related crimes. Some types of incidents that can occur on college campuses using computers include:

  • A student sending threatening emails to minority students

  • A graduate student extorting money from an online company using school computers and sending threatening emails when he was not paid

  • A student rigging his or her online election to student body president

  • Students illegally downloading music and shared pornographic materials

  • Pedophiles using the university’s library computers to compile information about underage boys in the area (Wright, 2000)

Other potential problems involving technology include identity theft, mainframe hacking, online stalking, and sexual harassment, to name a few. With their high concentration of computers and scores of skilled users, college campuses have become fertile grounds for computer- and other technology-related crimes, creating unique and particular challenges for campus law enforcement officials.

Case Studies

The following case studies further explain the role and nature of campus policing, particularly as regards danger, saving lives, and shooting incidents.

Danger of the Role

As with any form or level of policing, policing on postsecondary campuses can be hazardous. For example, Sean Collier, age 27, had been working as a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for only one year when he was murdered in April 2013; Officer Collier was shot three days after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings as officers were engaged in a massive manhunt for the two Tsarnaev brothers who planted the bombs that killed three people and injured several hundred more. It is believed that the brothers were trying to steal Collier’s gun at the time of the shooting (McPhee, 2015).

Saving Lives

At times, campus police officers are dubbed “heroes” for their efforts. That was the case late one night in late 2016 when officers responded to a major fire at an apartment building near the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. When a campus officer noticed flames shooting from the top of the building, he quickly notified the Hoboken fire and police departments; then, he and two other campus officers rushed into the smoke-filled building and up the stairs to the top floor, where they began evacuating the apartment’s residents (many of whom were asleep). Eventually, police and fire completely evacuated the building in the extreme cold weather, while preventing the fire from spreading to other nearby buildings; no citizens were injured in the incident (Campus Safety Magazine, 2017).

Campus Police Shootings

As with their local counterparts, campus police are at times involved in shooting a private citizen; and, as is often the case, such incidents quickly become controversial, particularly when it is revealed that the victim was unarmed and a member of a minority group. Such a case occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the shooting of 43-year old Samuel DuBose, an African American. Officer Raymond Tensing, age 25, was a white male with four years of law enforcement experience (one year of which was with the University of Cincinnati Police Department [UCPD]). In July 2015, Tensing was patrolling about a half mile off-campus and stopped DuBose for failure to display a front license plate. As seen in Tensing’s body camera video, the officer repeatedly requested DuBose’s driver’s license and was told he did not have it with him. Tensing attempted to open the driver’s door and remove DuBose from the car, but DuBose started the engine and began driving forward. Tensing then reached into the car, yelled “Stop” twice, then drew his pistol with his right hand and fired, striking DuBose in the head (Mura & Stolberg, 2015).

Tensing’s body camera video also showed him repeatedly telling other officers that he was dragged when his arm became caught in the car, making him fear that he would be run over and thus forcing him to fire his weapon (Koeninger, 2016).

With tensions running high in the city, the prosecutor further inflamed the public mood by stating that the video failed to show Tensing being dragged, that the shooting was “senseless,” and that Tensing “should never have been a police officer”; he called for a complete disbanding of the UCPD force and its replacement with city police officers (Coolidge et al., 2015).

Officer Tensing was indicted on July 29, 2015, on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter; in addition, he was fired from the UCPD (Saker, 2015). He pled not guilty (Ortiz & Carrero, 2015), and his first trial commenced in October 2016, with the defense arguing that Tensing was dragged by the car and that he fired in self-defense. However, a video forensics expert/FBI instructor testified that Tensing was not dragged, and instead aimed his gun at Dubose’s head before the vehicle moved (Grasha & Coolidge, 2016).

In November, the judge declared a mistrial when the jury deadlocked (, 2017). A retrial was slated to begin in May 2017. Prior to that date, the presiding judge ruled that the t-shirt Tensing was wearing under his uniform at the time of the shooting (depicting a Confederate battle flag) was so prejudicial that it would not be admitted into evidence (WKRC, 2017). On June 23, 2017, the second trial also ended in a deadlocked jury. Then, on July 18, 2017, the prosecutor announced that he was dropping the case against Tensing, given the two mistrials and that about one million dollars had already been expended in the effort (Sewell, 2017).

Several additional actions flowed from the incident:

  • The indictment focused attention on the arming of police on many college campuses and the complications that arise when they draw their weapons, especially while off-campus (Kutner, 2015).

  • A number of demands arose nationally for campus police to begin wearing body cameras.

  • A report released in September 2015 by a private consulting firm faulted both men for escalating the situation and recommended improving relevant training and policies, clarifying reporting requirements following officer-involved shootings, and providing cultural diversity training (University of Cincinnati, 2015).

  • The UCPD stopped making off-campus traffic stops (Petracco, 2015).

  • In January 2016, the University of Cincinnati agreed to pay $4.85 million to the DuBose family. In addition, the settlement included free undergraduate education for DuBose’s children, the creation of a memorial in his name, an apology from the school’s president, and police reform at the university (Stolberg, 2017).

  • An “early warning” system was implemented to flag problematic officers for poor behavior, as an accountability mechanism at UCPD (University of Cincinnati, 2016).

Immediately following the decision not to drop charges, federal officials began investigating whether or not to file civil rights charges against Tensing under Section 242 of Title 18 of the United States Code, for “deprivation of rights under color of law” (which makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of their civil rights). If convicted, Tensing could be imprisoned for any period of time up to life (Fox19, 2017).

Discussion of the Literature

Although campus police agencies have been in existence since the late 1960s and 1970s, and have evolved tremendously in role and function over the past two decades, generally speaking, relatively little has been published about this special-purpose type of policing. Furthermore, research has tended to be descriptive (and dated) in nature, focusing on increases in agency size, numbers of full-time sworn officers, special services (e.g., the use of students to assist with campus escort programs, building security, crowd control at events) and, occasionally, reported crimes. Certain researchers’ names (e.g., Barthe, Bordner, Fisher, Oliver, Peak, Sloan—see References section—and a few others tend to appear in reviews of related literature as they attempt to keep the public abreast of the evolution of policing on postsecondary campuses, but research has admittedly been spotty. In addition to descriptive research, certainly more studies are needed on the perceived legitimacy of postsecondary campus police, definition of their role, agency effectiveness, public perceptions of their existence or being armed, their jurisdiction or authority, or student satisfaction with campus police services. Therefore, more research is needed in general concerning these aspects of campus policing.

Further Reading

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Jacobsen, S. K. (2014, December). Policing the ivory tower: Students’ perceptions of the legitimacy of campus police officers. Deviant Behavior, 36(4), 310–329.Find this resource:

Peak, K. J., Barthe, E. P., & Garcia, A. (2008). Campus policing in America: A twenty-year perspective. Police Quarterly, 11(2), 239–259.Find this resource:

Reaves, B. A. (May 2015). Local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.Find this resource:

Wilson, C. P., & Wilson, S. A. (2011). Perceived roles of campus law enforcement: A cognitive review of attitudes and beliefs of campus constituents. Professional Issues in Criminal Justice, 6(1 & 2), 29–40.Find this resource:


Barnes, M. (2015). Cincinnati and federal officials fear riots if video of Sam DuBose killing is made public.

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Brantingham, P., Brantingham, P., & Seagrave, J. (1995). Crime and fear of crime at a Canadian university. In J. J. Sloan & B. Fisher (Eds.), Campus crime: Legal, social, and policy perspectives (pp. 123–155). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.Find this resource:

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Campus Safety Magazine. (2017, January 6). 3 campus police officers save residents from apartment fire. (2017). Ray Tensing trial: Jury deadlocks, mistrial declared in Ohio cop’s murder retrial.

Christiansen, E. (2007). Iowa’s universities to decide: Arm campus officers or not? SecurityInfoWatch.

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McPhee, M. (2015, March 11). New images show Sean Collier murder scene after Boston Marathon bombing. ABC News.Find this resource:

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(1.) While this discussion focuses on postsecondary institutions, of course primary and middle schools have not been spared this mayhem. Indeed, since 2013, there have been about 150 incidents in U.S. primary and secondary schools (including preschools), in which someone committed a firearms-related act resulting in injury or death, or either attempted or completed a suicide. (See “270 School Shootings in America since 2013,” Everytown [December 2017],). K–12 school safety continues to be a major concern, and several initiatives have been developed. For example, in addition to having their own dedicated police organizations, many schools now have school resource officers (SROs) for safety planning efforts, to assess the schools’ structure and to determine where potential problems exist. The primary and middle school police presence now even includes gang officers, and many school police agencies have developed a plan of action in the event of an active-shooter situation.