Page 95 - Security Today, September/October 2021
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departments emerged 50 years ago in large part as an outcry for change. On May 4, 1970, National Guard members shot student pro- testers at Kent State University. After some 70 shots fired, four students lay dead. Nine other students were injured (, 2017).
This tragic incident was a tipping point that sent shock waves across the country. Horrified how local city police and national guardsmen were violently clashing with cam- pus communities during massive civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, campus administrators along with faculty and stu- dents demanded policing be reimagined on college campuses (Gelber, 1972).
State legislatures paved the way to allow colleges to create their own campus police that could relate to their unique campus commu- nities and provide a safer environment at the behest of students, faculty, and staff (Socio- political Climate, 2009). By 2012, more than 4,000 university police departments across the United States serve and protect their respec- tive campus communities (Reaves, 2015). More than 50 years after their initial creation, it is time once again to reimagine how campus safety can be achieved.
The Efficacy of Campus Policing
Many legislators, university administrators and campus police chiefs tout the success of campus policing as their ability to support safety stemming from specialized knowledge and close connections to the campus com- munity (Peak, 2008). This premise is further supported by academic research that found campus police focus more on student safety than city police (Anderson, 1996). While one study found no significant short-term effects on crime rates caused by employing a college police department, it did reveal a significant long-term impact to reduce violent crimes by employing college police (Heaton, 2017).
Most colleges today offer comprehensive multidisciplinary resources to their commu- nity members. In addition to the police, col- leges often employ counseling centers, stu- dent health, student affairs, academic affairs, equal opportunity and diversity, wellness education and mediation departments.
Using their specialized knowledge and close campus connections, college police can guide those in need to resources in their net- work that often fall outside of traditional criminal justice responses to resolve non- violent matters. Many of these campus resources, such as counseling centers and student wellness departments, help college students before their struggles reach the point of crisis requiring police intervention (Figueroa, 2021). In spite of the unique effec-
tiveness of the campus police model, it has been swept up in the national dialog over abolishing the police.
Abolish Campus Policing Debate
in the 2020s
Until recent years, the role of campus law enforcement has experienced a relatively unopposed 50-year expansion since its pri- mary emergence in the 1960s and 1970s. Campus community support, in part, has been due to the belief that college campuses can be dangerous, thus requiring the need for college police. One may be perplexed as to why some community constituents who demanded the expansion of college police departments in the 1960s would now advo- cate for the disarmament of the very college police established to support their safety.
Abolitionists strategically chose to focus on college policing to initiate their efforts (McDowell, 2018). It is an interesting approach, considering research reveals young people are less likely to have positive attitudes about police (Wilson, 2015). The murder of George Floyd in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic though, galvanized social, political, business and media stakeholders toward a shared vision to “reimagine” and, increasingly, toward “defunding” and “abolishing” the police (DanDerWerff, 2020).
The death of George Floyd did not involve campus police officers; however, it spurred newfound social and political support to abolish college policing.
Several movements are striving to abolish police from college campuses altogether (DisarmUC, 2020). At least 44 student led petitions have been filed since by July 2020 to abolish police services from college campus- es across the nation (Barajas, 2020). College administrators feeling the pressure of stu- dent activists and an increasing numbers of faculty begun holding “reimagining public safety” town halls and safety symposiums.
These efforts have already seen some suc- cess. In February 2021, Los Angeles officials announced they were removing 100 police officers from the schools and reducing the Los Angeles School Police budget to “rein- vest” in the ‘Black Student Achievement Plan’ (Jake, 2021). In April 2021, during a public town hall meeting, University of California (UC) Board Regent chair John Perez shared he was open to discussions to reduce campus police across the 10 UC campuses by up to 40% (Turpin, 2021).
Pursuing a Holistic Safety Model
Decisions on the future role of campus law enforcement may ultimately be detrimental to college communities if not guided by prin-
ciples for inclusive safety meant for all mem- bers of the campus.
“When any part of the American family does not feel like it is being treated fairly, that is a problem for all of us” (The Economic Times, 2014),” said Pres. Barack Obama. “Campus administrators and campus police chiefs need to embrace those desiring to rei- magine college policing as community part- ners in the joint pursuit towards the creation of enhanced solutions to the ever-growing complex safety challenges. College police have the opportunity now to lead transfor- mational change in partnership with their communities by taking proactive measures towards a shift to policing that is effective, and also inclusive.”
Two Views – Armed or Unarmed?
The current debate on the future of campus policing often centers around two polar sce- narios: campuses with no armed campus police or campuses with armed campus police. Neither of these proposed scenarios align with the principle of providing an inclusively safe campus environment for all community members.
The abolitionist argument to eliminate armed campus police and not to allow local city police to respond in their stead does not provide a solution to address violence or crime occurring upon campuses. Yet, others who would argue for the need of armed cam- pus police with no change in campus polic- ing are missing the opportunity to provide safety services more effectively to the whole community.
It is evident not all police calls-for-service require a response by an armed campus police officer. Yet this is exactly the safety model the majority of campuses utilize today. Conversely, an unarmed public safety or security officer is not equipped to respond to a call-for-service involving violence or com- plex criminal investigations.
Over the last fifty years, the role of college police expanded to community caretaker and social worker due to the convenience of hav- ing college police available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the financial savings from not having to rely upon others. As we explore the opportunities to reimagine policing, it is equally important to reimagine the existing social service model used on campuses.
The Paradigm Shift
It is time for a paradigm shift in college policing by introducing a new holistic safety model that applies a tiered guardianship approach to support inclusive safety on cam- puses. Jumping ahead only five years shows us what can be done.

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