Campus Law Enforcement Can Challenge Managers

I have heard cops talk about second careers for their retirement. Some mention taking a campus police job; that should be easy--right? Well, think twice; it is not as easy as you may think it is. Post-Virginia Tech comes to mind, but even before that tragic day, there are other issues to ponder. Today's campus police departments face many challenges that we in municipal or state law enforcement don't even consider.

Transition time

Recently, I came across an old college friend and colleague who had a sterling career and rose through the ranks of the state police. Post-retirement, he took an assignment at a local university as a commander of their campus police force. In conversation with him, it is very apparent that he has handled the learning curve but his experiences enlightened me. I had worked on a campus while working as a director of training and also worked closely with the police academy, but never fathomed some of his talking points. So we compared our learning experiences.

The first thing is that there are many campus police forces, even today, that are unarmed. The rationale for this is hard for me to comprehend, but some universities want to live in a charmed world. I can't imagine working unarmed today, but many do so. Another trendy issue that comes to mind is the campus notification system or student/faculty warning system. I have heard everything from sirens, to text messaging and cell calls. I am told it is similar to warning a city of an event, but on a campus all are mobile and technology will prevail. This is not a tornado drill, but locking down a campus is no small task. The best part of this discussion is that technology is rapidly developing to meet these needs. Probably since our conversation there have been more advancements in this technological arena, good vendor relations is paramount here.

My colleague reminded me to imagine a campus as a mini-city, but some are larger than the town they are adjacent to. It can be self-supporting and have population swings from daytime to nighttime with classes. Plus, the service population changes with the events. Don't believe me; go to a campus during a major sporting event with a rival, and get the picture.

Traffic and parking enforcement can be very different in the two realms. In regular policing, enforcement is the word. Tickets, traffic accident reduction and speeding enforcement is what we do and with a concentration on citations. Face it; it is income for the agency. On a campus, it is nearly the opposite. Campus traffic enforcement could be delegated to a student patrol. These may be courtesy tickets, warnings at best; shall we call it compliance, rather than enforcement? Forbid the idea that someone parks in a department head's reserved parking space; this was a major infraction at my old campus. Additionally, at class change times and critical traffic flow, campus police may have to direct traffic for a smooth and rapid transition of driving students. This is far different than a municipal parking management.

Each new semester brings new students with worried parents. Campus crime prevention is similar to our crime prevention but with slight nuisances. Most of the focus is crime prevention and safety for young adults; but it is still our job to protect them. The Cleary Act requires all campus police agencies to report and post criminality. Some police agencies post their crimes on a web-site but most do not, another requirement for the campus cops! I did mention worried parents, so often the campus cops get the phone calls to perform welfare checks or 'call home'; this is all in a day's work.

College campuses can be targets as well. Should the faculty invite an outside speaker, who of course is nationally recognized for whatever, the crowds will come to hear them or protest. The security is one thing but now they must have intelligence on groups, no matter how they stand. Campus police then have to be appraised of a volatile atmosphere that could evolve due to a radical or political speaker. Either way, it is a security detail to protect all parties. Additionally, if the campus has any form of animal lab, welcome the animal rights groups as well. This mandates that often times the campus police must partner with local, state and federal departments for special interest events.

After my conversation with Howard it was more than apparent that a street cop could have a transition process here. Campus police work is neither a retirement job nor easy job; they have very specific demands placed on them that are ever changing. So if you have a child on campus, thank that campus police department for a job well done. And, if you think it is an easy plush job, let's call my friend.