Tag Archives: campus police

Campus Police as ‘Full Law Enforcement’: Widening the Jurisdiction

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.

“When seconds matter, police are just minutes away”: Doubts about Law Enforcement

The often-quoted sentiment in the title exemplifies the cynicism surrounding the ability of law enforcement to protect individuals. The post published on the 13th July 2015 demonstrated that a number of YouTube commentators blamed the ban on allowing students and staff at Virginia Tech University for the high death toll from the tragic 2007 shooting. What may be extrapolated from this is that the concept of defending one’s self is inextricably linked to individuals, rather than the police — this is particularly remarkable, considering law enforcement is an institutional body entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the public. The purpose of this blog post is to uncover the reasons why this is the case.

As posts published throughout July and August 2015 have highlighted, YouTube users are familiar with previous school shootings and draw upon those ‘second hand’ experiences to form ideas about what might transpire during such an incident. The relatively short time period in which school shootings occur is likely a driving factor. Some YouTube users made sardonic comments that pizza would be delivered before the police arrived. Commentators drew upon knowledge of past school shootings, pointing out that most of these ended before law enforcement arrived. There is some truth to this: only 27% of thirty-seven school shootings were stopped by law enforcement and several studies have documented the proclivity of school shooters to kill themselves before law enforcement intervention.(1)

Further to this, YouTube users were particularly scathing of the abilities of law enforcement on college and university campuses to offer protection, purporting they were ‘tiny forces’ with ‘little experience’ and thus ‘not equipped’ to act as first responders to a school shooting situation. Something which acutely concerned users was the fact that in some states campus police are ‘unarmed,’ meaning they do not have access to lethal weapons (firearms). The Secret Service (2002) report, however, found that only 8% of school shootings required law enforcement to discharge weapons. (2)

The outcome of these sentiments then translates into the idea that police are just there to ‘clean up the crime scene’ of all those killed before they arrived. Accordingly, numerous YouTube commentators appeared to believe that the purpose of the police is not to act as ‘bodyguards’ or ‘prevent crimes’ but to ‘enforce the law’ by investigating crimes after they transpire and acting as a visible deterrent to criminals. As documented in empirical studies, fear — in this case of a school shooting or even just general crime on campus — is a catalyst for eroding trust and confidence in the police. (3) Such a sentiment, hence, paves the way for the notion that the individual is the only one who can be trusted to protect themselves — this will be elucidated in the next post in relation to the issue of students and concealed carry.

[This blog post was put together from analyses of YouTube comments and further reading around fear and government studies of lessons to be learned from previous school shooting incidents. The next blog post will bring together all the elements discussed in posts throughout July and August 2015.]

(1). See the following studies: Lankford, A. (2013a). ‘A comparative analysis of suicide terrorists and rampage, workplace, and school shooters in the United States from 1990 to 2010.’ Homicide Studies: An Interdisciplinary & International Journal, 17 (3), 255-274; Lankford, A. (2013b) ‘Mass Shooters in the USA, 1996-2010. Differences between attackers who live and die.’ Justice Quarterly; Vossekuil, B., R. A. Fein, M. Reddy, R. Borum, and W. Modzeleski. (2004) The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Washington.

(2) Vossekuil, B., R. A. Fein, M. Reddy, R. Borum, and W. Modzeleski. (2004) The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Washington.

(3) Farrall, S. D., J. Jackson and E. Gray. (2009) Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Gray, E., J. Jackson and S. Farrall (2011) ‘Feelings and Functions in the Fear of Crime: Applying a New Approach to Victimisation Insecurity.’ British Journal of Criminology 51, 75-94.