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The following is for informational purposes only

University Police Departments

Who are University Police?

US University Police

University or campus police are sworn police officers who are employed by colleges or other types of schools to protect the property, employees, students, and visitors.

Some university police are actual local police departments assigned to protect college property and people. Some can also perform the same duties as regular police officers. Those campus safety departments that are not actual police forces cannot arrest someone, investigate crime or carry firearms. These factors depend highly on the organization type and structure of the police force along with state laws.

Regarding firearms, each state regulates gun control, and some leave it up to the college to decide whether or not security guards and campus police may carry weapons to do their jobs.

Many campus police officers are recruited right out of Police Officer Standards, and Training (POST) program and they generally receive the same training as state police. Some college police units are well trained in specialty law enforcement services such as investigation, special response team (SWAT or SRT), bicycle or motorcycle patrol and community safety. Depending on funding, some university police are better equipped than local law enforcement.

Only three states in the U.S. do not have statutory provisions requiring sworn police officers to be posted at universities; they are Hawaii, Idaho, and New Hampshire. 92% of the campus police forces are self-sufficient and do not rely on local or state police for anything.



US University Police

The first university police department in the U.S. was founded in 1894, at Yale University. The university recruited officers from the New Haven Police Department and formed its own Yale Campus Police Department to settle disputes and keep the peace between students and “townies”.

After that, the idea of campus police declined a bit, and colleges hired retired cops to handle security. Then in the 1950s and 1960s with sit-ins, riots, and shootings, the need for actual campus police became apparent. Other colleges followed Yale’s lead and trained officers to be on-site at all times to deal with these emerging issues.

Local police often had to step in and handle the more aggressive situations on campus with violence and arrests. By 1977 a law was passed requiring state-owned colleges to include campus police. As numerous campus shootings and frequent violence developed, privately owned colleges also instituted campus police forces to ensure the safety and security of students, faculty, and visitors.

University Police vs. Cops

US University Police

The primary function of a university police department is the safety and security of the college employees and attendees. Despite the debate over security versus a safety approach, most college police forces function the same. Those with sworn officers can perform the same functions as a local, state or municipal officer including making arrests, investigating crimes, issuing citations and detaining suspects.

On campuses where the approach is more of a security-guard style, less crime prevention and response will be necessary and local police may be needed to assist. Some of the duties assigned to campus cops are:

  • Physical security and minimizing threats to human life and property.
  • The use of locks, barriers, alarms, access control and other equipment to protect property and people.
  • Regular patrols.
  • Crime prevention techniques.
  • Surveillance of all types.
  • Response to crime and assistance to victims or others.

Local, state and county police can patrol (watch for and prevent crime), respond to reports of crime or assistance needed, investigate crimes, perform detective work, train other officers, and fill out a lot of procedural paperwork.

University police may share some of the duties that local or state police perform, but on a much smaller scale and localized to include only areas controlled by the school.

Depending on the state, either state administrators or college boards decide what duties university police will carry out and whether or not they can carry weapons while doing their job. Some campus police departments have mutual agreements with local police and work hand-in-hand together to bridge the gap of services providing mutual aid between departments.

The most significant difference between university police and local police is that the campus police serve the 18-25-year-old demographic exclusively, which is a high-risk group. Community expectations and school administrators set other determinations as to how much leeway the law officers are provided and how, when and where they do their jobs.


University Police Types

There are five main approaches to campus safety and security that have changed over time.

  • Watch-Guard Operation - under this scenario, campus watch guards’ primary focus is to protect private university property. Guards may wear radios and uniforms but do not act as officers, and there is no training or policing. The focus of this approach is the prevention of crime.
  • Contract Guard Service - this low-cost option for campus police is basically paid security guards who don’t make a lot of money. They watch out for suspicious activity but do not perform any real policing functions.
  • Contracted Local Police - this set up includes patrols upon request by local police but nothing regular or structured. In some cases, universities would hire off-duty cops to patrol the grounds and stay on-site and perform police functions as if he or she were on duty. Officers were paid time and a half for these assignments.
  • Private Security Departments - these organizations mimic local police and are organized the same way with ranking and operational procedure. They perform around-the-clock patrols and function as a regular police force. Many officers carry firearms and are licensed to arrest, investigate and issue citations.
  • Proprietary University Police Departments - are the most widely used configuration in modern colleges. These organizations may employ a combination of sworn police officers and security guards. They are organized and function like a real police force.

University Police Departments

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