When most people think about starting a career in law enforcement, they rarely think about the world of campus policing. However, I personally think it is one of the best forms of law enforcement there is today.
Campus policing is an excellent and rewarding career. It is also a great stepping-stone to go somewhere bigger and better. But bigger is not always better, what may be good for you may not be good for everyone. What are the similarities and differences of the two types of policing?
Campus policing can be a little different from campus to campus. What a police officer does at a small private college maybe different from a large state university. Since the 1960’s and 70’s campus policing has proven to be an essential form of campus security but different forms of public safety exist across institutions.
Some universities and colleges hire only security personnel; others hire certified-sworn campus police officers. Many large colleges and universities have systematically professionalized their public safety departments, so that they are now analogous to their local, county, and state counterparts in policing. This transformation has included formalized law enforcement training; the granting of arrest powers, and in most cases the authorization to carry firearms.
There are many factors that come into play when considering whether or not to establish a campus police force. Both the university president, board of visitors and campus administrators must petition to the local circuit court for the establishment of a campus police department.
In Virginia both the local police and university must complete a detailed written mutual agreement between the two departments. Under the Virginia Campus Police Act of 1977, state law allows both private and public colleges and universities to maintain a police department and concurrent jurisdiction around the campus grounds in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Some of the differences between campus policing, municipal and county policing are that campus police focuses on protection of the students, staff and buildings. Campus police departments must also comply with Title IX and the Clery Act.
When responding to calls, street officers must complete detailed police reports that may have a longer narrative than a traditional city officer’s police report. Officers are also responsible for following up and ensuring that students are given counseling when needed through the university counseling services and women’s center.
Management within these campus police departments are sometimes required to send out timely text messages and e-mail notifications to the university community of a major crime that occur on or near the campus grounds.
Unlike other police departments, campus police departments have to be sensitive to the needs and the wants of the staff, students and student’s parents. This sometimes can be a challenge wearing the different hats of being a sworn police officer, campus ambassador and a campus protector. In most cities, and large counties you focus more on the enforcement of the laws and responding to a number of law enforcement calls for service.
At large universities you do the same but also respond to medical emergencies, fire alarms. The vast majority of calls campus officers handle are larceny reports, minor vehicle crashes, large parties, fights and simple assaults. They also occasionally respond to and investigate sexual assaults, armed robberies and burglaries.
— Campus Reform (@campusreform) April 11, 2019
Although most campus police departments have their own detective division and investigate some major crimes; all shootings, death investigations and homicides are handled by the local or state police.
On-campus policing notifications to management on matters like suspicious activity or on going security issues are crucial. You sometime are required to complete information reports on matters that a city department would never do. However, in my opinion there are more similarities than differences with the two types of policing.
In Virginia, both city and campus police officers attend the same DCJS approved training academy and carry the same authority. They both are required to attend the same annual in-service training at a regional academy or department academy, and when any officer makes an arrest they both transport the prisoner to the local jail and testify in the same general district courts.
Both departments share jurisdiction around the campus grounds and typically back each other up on and around the campus. Both departments require their officers to work shift work, long hours, weekends, holidays and during bad weather. They are both required to conduct traffic stops, issue summonses and investigate vehicle crashes.
In Virginia, campus police are paid about $3-5,000 a year less than large cities, but that varies from state to state. In Virginia the average starting salary for an entry-level police officer is $42K a year and the average is $38k for small towns and campus police.
In Virginia, the retirement benefits are the same because with the exception of private campus police and private company police, most law enforcement agencies are under the Virginia Retirement System. (VRS) This is a retirement system for most public employees.
There are different sub-categories under VRS for state police, city and other state law enforcement agencies but for the most part it is the same. All police work is dangerous and officers constantly practice and discuss “officer safety.”
In recent years there has been a slight increase on campus police in the line of duty deaths, however, the numbers are far lower than city and county police. There are over 3000 college and university police departments in the United States. Some states like California, Texas and New York have one huge University Police Force that provides law enforcement and security services to all of the state universities. Whereas in Virginia there are approximately 32 separate public and private campus police departments providing public safety to most of the colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.
In Virginia, campus law enforcement is identified under Virginia State Code §23.1-809 and §23.1-810 for both public and private campus police. When choosing a career in local law enforcement, consider the profession of being a state or private university police officer.
Sgt. Marc Huckless is a 26 year veteran law enforcement officer with Old Dominion University Police. He spent 7 years as a patrol officer on the evening shift and 4 years on the midnight shift responding to a number of calls on and around the campus. In 2001 Sgt. Huckless headed up the community policing unit and today is in charge of the security unit-campus patrol. Sgt. Huckless wrote a number of articles on the history of campus policing in the U.S., the authority of campus police officers and the importance of officers understanding the Clery Act and Title IX.