Campus Law Enforcement Facing New Challenges as Social and World Events Dictate Change

More collaborative policing and information sharing necessary to keep pace with new threats

Over the past few years campus law enforcement has taken some dramatic turns and faced some interesting challenges. There is greater scrutiny regarding how campus security professionals conduct investigations and report on-campus sexual assaults as a result of several recent incidents at the University of Montana. Campus law enforcement has also been assaulted by other forces including occupy protestors, civil suits, and a rash of ongoing campus threats in the form of active shooters, radicalization of students, suspects of terrorism, and liberal professors. However, there are five topics that appear in almost every conversation involving a campus law enforcement professional. They include federal monitoring, community policing, National Campus Public Safety Center, technology, and obviously the future of this noble industry.


Tracking the Top Five Issues

Federal Oversight — If you are college law enforcement professional, and you are not aware of the federal oversight at the University of Montana for their perceived failure to conduct appropriate investigations relating to sexual assaults, you are already at risk. The Department of Justice and Education conducted a lengthy investigation and determined that the University of Montana Police, Missoula City Police and the county attorney’s office had created an environment where there was a practiced pattern of violating the civil rights of women for supposedly failing to protect them. The university’s head of campus security told federal officials that his department did their best to assess if the victim’s claim was “provable” and whether it seemed “credible” during their initial interview. The United States Department of Justice stated that the university’s assessment of the victims was “in direct contradiction” to what the role of a first responder should be.

Roy L. Austin of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The problems we found at the University of Montana were real and significant. These concerns, however, are not unique to this campus. The women who are subject to sexual harassment and assault know that without support the devastating consequences for them, their classmates and their community are made all the worse. Institutions of higher learning across the country must be absolutely tireless in their determination to fully and effectively respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment on their campuses involving their students.”

I have authored a couple of articles related to this topic. The crux of the material is that the federal government is currently conducting reviews of more than 55 law enforcement agencies on college campuses for Clery Act and Title IX investigation failures. This means campus administrators need to be aware that they are no longer working within the confines of the once fabled “ivory towers”. Parents, students, educators and lawmakers are watching and making sure that campus departments and agencies are compliant. It is no longer enough to simply know the laws.

Use of Force — Traditional law enforcement agencies have been faced with federal civil rights lawsuits for decades. They are commonly referred to as a 1983 action, and are generally filed against government agencies for violations or deprivation of civil rights — specifically excessive force, false arrest or violations of due process as it relates to law enforcement. As a result of the recent protesting environment on college campuses (UC Campuses/Occupy Protestors/ general protests), dealing with the civil rights of their student population is something campus law enforcement is top of mind. Knowing that today’s “You-tube” generation can record, post or tweet any incident within seconds of them occurring, a new set of social skills and restraint is certainly required. In the past six months there have been lawsuits filed in California against San Francisco City Colleges and against Drexel University for violating the rights of students and use of excessive force. These claims illustrate a growing trend of claims against campus law enforcement, which are not just coming from students or other college stakeholders.

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