The previous two blogs have discussed the issue of policing in the form of SROs in K-12 schooling and external law enforcement agencies; this post will now turn to look at the transformation of law enforcement in colleges and universities across the United States. Similar to the alterations which took place at K-12 schools after the Columbine shooting (refer to the previous two blogs for more details), the impetus for change at further and higher education institutes occurred after the tragic incident at Virginia Tech University in 2007.
To begin with, an investigation carried out at the request of the President into the circumstances around the Virginia Tech shooting found that there were a number of limitations with the current status of law enforcement. (1) It was found that campus police felt that they were not considered to be ‘full law enforcement’ by students, campus officials and officers from external law enforcement departments. The ‘legitimacy’ of police is of key important in convincing people to trust their decisions and follow their orders. (2) Concurrently, the report ordered by the Governor of Virginia, recommended that the mission statements of campus police should give precedence to their role as crime prevention officials. (3) This was subsequently translated into policy at Virginia Tech University, where the jurisdiction of the campus police department was expanded to give it the same authority as law enforcement agencies to do the following activities: make arrests, conduct investigations, enact security procedures, enforce laws and approve building modifications. Additionally, the police and rescue departments have been amalgamated into one facility, hence cementing the legitimacy of their position. (4) Rationalising and redefining the roles of police to deal with crime relates to the ‘culture of crime control,’ where government agencies alone — in this case, educational institutions — are not trusted to manage the risk. (5)
On another note, the report prepared at the request of the president noted that many campus police departments are under-staffed and lack critical resources. (6) At Virginia Tech University, funds of $487, 400 were appropriated by its executive vice president to employ eleven new members of staff in the campus police department. The police department currently has forty-nine officers, ten dispatchers, eight security guards and five support personnel. Equipment was also procured by the university: marked cars to increase visibility of police; uniforms for security guards; rifles for patrol officers. (7) Once again, this brings to mind the idea of ‘militarism’ within law enforcement, where the weaponry of the military is utilised as a problem-solving tool. (8) Overall, these actions are tangible indicators of the institution ‘doing something,’ further strengthening the legitimacy of campus police in their role of managing school shootings and other threats faced.
[This blog was formed using analyses of federal and state policy documents published in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, alongside relevant academic readings. It wraps up the theme of law enforcement changes following school shootings that have been the focus of the last few blog posts.]
(1) Leavitt, M. O., A. R. Gonzales, and M. Spelling. (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(2) Tyler, T. R. (2011) ‘Trust and legitimacy: Policing in the USA and Europe.’ European Journal of Criminology 8(4), 254-266.
(3) Virginia Tech Review Panel. (2009) ‘Mass shootings at Virginia Tech April 16, 2007: Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel presented to Timothy M. Kaine, Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia (updated edition).’ November. http://www.vtreviewpanel.org/report/index.html.
(4) Internal policy documents ‘University Safety and Security’ and ‘Crisis and Emergency Management Plan,’ both published throughout 2012.
(5) Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(6) Leavitt, M. O., A. R. Gonzales, and M. Spelling. (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(7) Internal policy documents ‘University Safety and Security’ and ‘Crisis and Emergency Management Plan,’ both published throughout 2012.
(8) Kraska, P. B. (2007) ‘Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Police.’ Policing 1(4), 501-513.