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Abstract: Campus Security

The role of campus security has changed dramatically in the past several decades, from self-sufficient and relatively unnoticed to highly visible integral partners.

Campus Security Roles

In early American education, campus security heated buildings, served as fire watch, and locked doors; while faculty maintained student discipline. Later, campus security assumed both roles. Campus unrest in the 1960s and 1970s, successful lawsuits in the 1980s, and the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1993 (now the Clery Act) brought pressure for professional, full-service campus security police agencies, which employ security officers or peace officers with some type of commission or certification and are more likely than local forces to assess candidate community relations skills. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), almost all campus security organizations conduct a background investigation and criminal record, background, reference, and driving record checks, and most use additional screening methods (e.g., psychological evaluations, aptitude tests, physical agility tests, medical exams) for sworn officers.

Security Function. Security officers can have full arrest powers or limited to no peace officer power (reporting crimes immediately to the police). On some campuses, security officers function as (usually uniformed) watch guards; on others, they provide higher-level security, protecting property but also visitors, faculty, staff, and students; developing crime prevention programs; and integrating into the campus mainstream. Some universities hire security staff; others contract for security. In general, campus security agencies maintain order rather than strict adherence to rules, using persuasion rather than force.

Law Enforcement Function. Many administrators are moving toward campus security with full police powers rather than utilizing city police (per a DOJ study). City and campus police have similar responsibilities and authority but differ in (1) clientele age range and attitudes, with 18- to 24-year-old students and an academic community downplaying or denying the need for force, emphasizing education and debate; and (2) functions, with campus security serving traditional roles but also handling building and grounds security, school rules (e.g., student rights, diversity, sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence), and decisions on whether to arrest students, refer them to the school judicial process, or both. Campus security officers must complete academy courses to receive a commission or certification before exercising arrest powers (e.g., use of force, post-arrest search, seizure and restraint) and investigative powers (e.g., stop and detain, frisk for weapons, question). The decision on department type depends on campus size and setting, criminal offense and violence levels, institution type, large events (number and history), town-gown relationships, and number of resident students. Media calls for more accountability are reinforced by the federal crime- reporting mandate and parent inquiries.


Many methods to evaluate staffing needs are available; none is best. Relevant campus (and comparison) issues include the number of on-duty officers versus students, medical or research facility, rural or urban setting, size (students, buildings, acres), separation from community, serious crime level, community crime rate, student demographics, available patrol officers, major events, officers with other duties, and lighting and emergency phones. Another method analyzes service calls handled (for a 1 year minimum), call type (routine, emergency), average time to handle each, response  time  by  call types, and time lost through leave. This analysis helps administrators identify problem areas and develop directed patrol activities.

Selection of a Manager (Chief). For  years,  colleges hired retired FBI, local law enforcement, or military officials for manager jobs. Now, campus security supervisors have campus life expertise; many have academic degrees and progressive management experience. To hire a good campus security leader, the institution must assess how successful programs work, spell out job qualifications, use targeted advertisements (e.g., IACLEA website, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Chronicle of Higher Education), assemble a selection committee (students, faculty, staff; diversity) to review and interview candidates, and conduct a detailed background investigation after conditional job offers.

Utilization of Students. Campus security can  use students to serve as escorts, lock and unlock buildings, write parking tickets, direct traffic, and walk campus grounds. Some institutions go further,  assigning students as university services officers (e.g., to walk beats, ride in vehicles to back up regular officers, direct traffic, assist at accident scenes, take some routine reports) or even as actual security officers.

Interagency Cooperation

Contract for Law Enforcement Services. Some institutions contract for security services from an external company or for law enforcement services from a city or county; the latter option is infrequent and succeed when the town-gown relationship is good and campus crime is low on a relatively small campus.

Mutual Aid Agreements. Campus law enforcement agencies often have mutual aid agreements with one or two law enforcement agencies to share resources as needed. Agreements estimate available resources type (personnel, equipment); legal status of each participant; procedures for assigning legal authority, maintaining radio communication, and arresting, processing, and transporting prisoners; identity of people authorized to request aid; and requesting agency expenses. Agreements should be reviewed annually.

Letter of Understanding. If campus law enforcement shares concurrent jurisdiction or equal authority with local, city, or county law enforcement agencies, a letter of understanding delineates responsibilities (e.g., procedures to match responding agency to incident type and obtain backup support, command responsibility in joint investigations, and policies on local tickets and arrests on campus).

Federal Reporting Regulations

Administrators must understand personal safety liability. Federal legislation (the Clery Act and 2008 amendments) requires any institution receiving Title IV student aid to produce an annual campus security report to  students and employees. Schools had to create recordkeeping systems and report information  for  the  preceding  3 years on specific criminal incidents: murder, sexual offenses and rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, and motor vehicle theft (There are FBI definitions listed  for these and for arson and hate crimes).  The law  requires disclosing arrest numbers for liquor law, drug abuse,  and  weapons  possession  violations.  Schools must have policies on crime reporting; campus security role and authority; local agency relationships; facility access; crime prevention; and alcohol, drug, and sex offenses. Institutions must provide timely warnings of crimes and potential threats. IACLEA worked with the Department of Education (DoE)  on  developing regulations and compliance training.

Open Campus Police (Security) Logs. State law requirements for release of general police information previously conflicted with the federal Buckley Amendment barring release of daily logs and arrest data by campus law enforcement; an exception now allows schools to follow state laws, so administrators must be familiar and comply with them. The 2008 amendments banned hate crimes; required emergency response and evacuation procedures; imposed fire safety reporting requirements, including an annual report and on-campus housing fire logs; and mandated policies for missing students living on campus. Campus security must monitor changes in the Clery Act (e.g., DoE, IACLE, and Security On Campus information).

Crime Prevention

This proactive strategy eliminates or minimizes criminal opportunities. Many campus security agencies have at least one crime prevention specialist. Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies standards recommend targeting programs by crime type and geographic area (based on local crime data), targeting programs on perceptions and misperceptions of crime, and evaluating program effectiveness. Campus security must have close ties with local police and with the students, staff, and faculty who also foster campus safety; campus security coordinates various programs.

Personal Safety. Campus security sets  the  tone  for zero tolerance (backed by strong sanctions and the criminal justice system) for sexual abuse and acts of violence. The best way to be safe is to be alert to surroundings and have an escape route but also study with other people; lock dorm room doors; walk with confidence, not alone (e.g., with a campus escort), in the middle of the sidewalk, and facing traffic; and drive safely (e.g., look before entering car, lock doors, avoid parking in remote areas, and if followed, go to nearest police station, firehouse, or open gas station). Many sexual assault incidents are acquaintance or date rape, so students must arrange first-time dates in a public place or with a group, limit alcohol consumption, go home with known people, trust instincts, and assertively communicate (and stick to) sexual limits. When a sexual assault incident occurs, the student must have the option to make a criminal (or anonymous) report, access advocates, and seek a student conduct system remedy; the student must be encouraged to seek medical attention promptly. Campus security must issue timely advisories of sexual assaults (e.g., crime-alert bulletin, press release, email). Before deciding to buy a personal security device (e.g., chemical deterrent, pressure- activated alarm, whistle, noise alarm), the student should consider the limits of each (e.g., ease of access; ability of attacker to use it against the student; ability to summon help, frighten or disable the attacker, and provide a window of escape; continued operation after activation).

Property Safety. Theft is one of the most frequent campus crimes. Theft prevention can be helpful; e.g., Operation ID (numbers in a database and on property; warning decals); Property Safety Awareness (e.g., keeping valuables out of sight, recording serial and model numbers, reporting suspicious activity); and Campus Watch, similar to Neighborhood Watch (with security survey, newsletters, special bulletins).

Campus Safety Issues

Institutions have options to protect facilities and people.

(1) Lighting reduces the chance of victimization (although statistical data are inconclusive), reduces accidents, requires annual (or semiannual) security walk throughs to assess lighting, can be installed in downward directions to reduce light blight, and is enhanced by maps showing lighted paths. (2) Emergency telephones (used by some schools for  escort requests, directions, car trouble) can be installed anywhere; are usually by busy sidewalks and in parking lots; operate simply by picking up a receiver or pushing a button to connect to a 911 or emergency line; and should be clearly visible from a distance at night, tested frequently, and accessible to persons with disabilities.

  • Environmental design for safety entails security personnel partnering with planners and architects (e.g., on new construction, plantings, parking lots, locks, lighting, alarms, barriers, target hardening) to improve safety by influencing behavior through natural access control and surveillance, territoriality, and maintenance.
  • Common audible alarms (e.g., to scare intruders, fire and exit-only doors) or numerous silent alarms (e.g., to catch intruders, panic buttons, foil metal tape, magnetic switches, infrared beams, pressure pads) require checks (5) Alarm response plans focus on the safety of all people and responders, hostage taking prevention, and apprehension of offenders. Two patrol units respond to an alarm (each with specific duties), confirm that a crime occurred, secure the exterior, search the interior, lock down the affected area, obtain physical (and vehicle) descriptions, and take witness statements. (6) Keying systems are often managed by one organization (often campus security) and are composed of design, implementation (often simple, using one supplier), and control (often challenging e.g., duplication prevention, sign-out procedures, annual inventory).
Fire Protection

Officers should have a working knowledge of fire extinguishers; know the location of all standpipe hose stations, fire alarm and electrical panels, and hazardous materials sites; work with fire alarm maintenance personnel (e.g., testing alarms often); and know evacuation plans and participate in fire drills. A written plan outlining department roles during a fire must be reviewed annually and must address at least internal and external personnel and equipment available, fire department notification procedures, wind direction observations, control post, evacuation plan, outer and inner perimeters, monitoring to prevent looting, traffic control, support for emergency services and investigators, photo and video evidence, and incident reports.

Campus Law Enforcement Professionalism Campus law enforcement agencies are embracing professionalism, with higher standards of admission; adherence to ethics code; academy, field officer, and mandatory in-service training; and adoption of detailed rules, policies, and procedures.

National Accreditation. CALEA began accepting applications for accreditation in 1983; more than 400 law enforcement agencies (including campus agencies) are now accredited. This voluntary accreditation process has four major goals: prevent and control crime, enhance effectiveness and efficiency of services delivery, cooperate with other law enforcement agencies, and increase citizen and employee confidence. Some standards are mandatory; some depend on agency size; and many require written policies. With DOJ seed funding, IACLEA developed an accreditation program for campus public safety, drawing on CALEA standards and adding some unique aspects to campus safety agencies.  Accreditation has produced controversy among law enforcement agencies; opponents cite cost, time, and too-general standards while advocates cite its role in increasing professionalism and identifying unacceptable behavior and their belief that self-governance is better than regulations.

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