In light of new research pointing out what we already knew but didn't want to admit – that colleges and universities in the US are wildly underreporting sexual assaults on campus for the sake of PR – I have a public service announcement. This fact shocks about half of the people I've shared it with over the years.

Lots of University Police are not police. It varies by campus but more often than not, even at some massive state schools, the university cops are not real cops. They lack full police powers and they are essentially the university's private security guards (although in most cases they can be called upon to do things like traffic control for the Real Cops). As employees of the university they have a vested interest in keeping the crime rate low.

One way to keep a lid on the crime rate is to prevent crimes from happening. Another is to actively discourage victims from reporting crimes to the Real Police. When a student interacts with the campus cops, she may be talking to someone who cannot file charges against anyone or, in extreme cases, arrest anyone. The "investigations" performed by these sorta-cops aren't actual police investigations. They're a university administrative procedure, in essence. They are an internal investigation to determine whether the case should be given over to the Real Police for a real investigation.

For some reason I always thought this was common knowledge. Lately I've learned that it isn't. This has a huge impact on victims of crimes on campus; sexual assault certainly isn't the only thing they try to keep a lid on. There is a strong incentive to understate the number of robberies, assaults, and instances of property damage on campus so that Mom & Dad will sleep well knowing that their snowflake is safe. At one previous institution, the student paper (of all things) revealed that an epidemic of students being taken by taxis to remote locations and robbed was being given the silent treatment by the university police, who on that campus are not sworn officers.

Whenever I read about one of the alarming number of high profile rape cases on campus these days, the first thing I do is google the police department of the school in question. A small amount of digging will reveal whether they are campus police or Police police. This piece of information goes a long way toward explaining whatever miscarriage of justice is at the heart of the story.