By Lucy Ewing
When touring colleges, many parents take special note of emergency call button towers, security officers in large buildings, and night ride programs. Universities employ a network of officials to safeguard students, and at the core is the campus police department.
Campus police are a full-service police agency specifically serving the campus community. They can respond to needs on and off campus and extend themselves beyond a typical police department. At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, every officer in the campus police department is commissioned by the City of Boulder and can serve anywhere in the city, especially in the areas adjacent to campus that are heavily occupied by students.
“We are aware of the stakeholders, the campus mission and the campus population that has special needs that aren’t serviced like a local police department,” says Detective Sergeant Michael Lowry. “If a professor gets locked out of his office, or a student needs a battery jumped, we’ll help out.”
Campus police play a key role in the prevention of incidents, with intensive education and enforcement at the beginning of the school year. Campus patrol officers are assigned to dorm clusters and work with Resident Advisors (RAs) and housing staff to provide safety education such as the reminder to lock dorm rooms even when leaving for just a few minutes. Many schools also employ “community safety officials” who perform residential building checks and serve as extra eyes and ears on campus.
Sometimes “helping out” means dealing with students who are breaking the law and/or in violation of university codes of conduct. Campus police respond to reported incidents that endanger the safety of the students. They can make arrests and file charges.
According to Det. Lowry, one of the biggest threats to student safety on campus is alcohol abuse. For students under the age of 21, drinking is prohibited on campuses as it is in the community. At some schools, alcohol is not allowed in residence halls at all, while at others students who are 21+ may have alcohol in their rooms and host parties in common areas if they apply for the proper permit. Information about alcohol and party policies at your student’s school should be readily available in the Student Handbook and on the website.
Underage students who do drink and are apprehended by campus police will be charged with Minor in Possession and introduced to the municipal court system. On many campuses, including at the University of Colorado, a student does not have to be holding alcohol (or drugs) to be charged with possession. Evidence of intoxication alone suffices.
Says Det. Lowry, “I tell students that not every lesson is taught in the classroom. There are boundaries, established by laws, and if you are outside of them, that’s when you learn how to behave.”
For first-time offenders, the courts often send the student back to the school where the administration initiates a review and typically proscribes community service and education.
Could jail be a possibility? Campus police have a set of arrest standards. “If it’s appropriate for a person to go to jail, such as likelihood of a recurrence of crime, they will go to jail and see a judge the next business day,” Det. Lowry says. Upon multiple charges, the courts are more involved, and college enrollment can be suspended or even revoked. These charges stay on college records for several years. Burglary charges, including laptop thefts from dorms, are never erased.
Contrary to what some students may think, campus police are motivated to minimize, not make, arrests. “The university’s mission is to graduate students, and the police department is there to make sure that happens,” says the detective, who serves on a “Students of Concern” team that includes representatives from counseling services, the Office of Discrimination and Harassment, the legal department, and the Office of Student Conduct. At weekly meetings, the team discusses strategies for supporting students who are struggling with newfound freedoms and responsibilities and engaging in risky behavior.
A final word of advice from Det. Lowry: wherever they go, students should stick with friends and — it can’t be emphasized enough — avoid drinking to excess. “Odds are very good that you’ll be safe and enjoy the college experience.”
And what about that campus call box? When the button is pushed, it’s treated as a 911 call, whether received by campus police dispatch or the municipal police department. Parents with an immediate concern about their student’s welfare should hit their own “call box” and dial campus police.
Student Code of Conduct and Statistics
All colleges have a Student Code of Conduct and are required by law to publish it. New students and parents should take the time to read it, as it thoroughly sets forth protections, expectations and ramifications. Federal legislation passed in 1990, originally known as the Campus Security Act and now known as the Clery Act, requires college campuses to report by October 1 each year three calendar years of crimes on and around their campuses — including violations of the student code in incidents where arrests were not made. There are special provisions in the Clery Act related to sexual assaults and hate crimes. A public crime log must also be maintained, with incidents recorded within two days.
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