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.

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  • Having gone to a small university back in the late 80s they were always referred to as "campus security", and always unarmed. Mostly charged with keys so students could access buildings and labs. Day to day it was mostly the RAs who kept the peace. You had to be acting like a real dick head for security to be called.

    I'd assume something on the magnitude of UCLA would have police, it is bigger than many small towns.

    When did the change from security, to "police" come about? When did they go from the guy in the golf cart who chased you around campus when you did the obligatory nudie run, or got you back to your dorm safely when the stairs outside the science building seemed like a good place to "check out the stars"—to dressed to oppress in riot gear and pepper mace?

    I know that most security guys are the guys who couldn't become cops, but seriously?

  • Had the privilege of working on the campus of Stanford University a few summers ago, and interacted weekly with the campus police in an outreach role. There they are all Santa Clara county sheriffs. Each UC and CSU campus here in California each have their own police departments with sworn officers required to maintain the same training as any other officer in the state. Not to say that there are not systemic issues, in many cases campus PD have been used as private security and henchmen for the chancellors and regents, see: UC Davis pepper spray incident.

  • I attended Carnegie Mellon, where the campus police were actual sworn officers. This created some interesting jurisdictional fights between them and the Pittsburgh Police but I don't think it changed the fact that they had a vested interest in keeping crime numbers low, even if they had more legal mechanisms to do so. CMU still made it onto the ACLU's Title IX shit-list, so even having sworn officers didn't help them deal with the underlying issue at hand.

  • Years ago, as an resident adviser (RA) at a Big Ten school, I and the other RAs were told, in as many words, to NEVER call the campus police (much less the local city police) for dorm matters. We were to call the hall director first; any police contact would be done at his/her discretion. The most immediate context for this was underage drinking ("busting" the party in room 27A, etc.), but it also applied to drugs and to assault and violence (including sexual). Needless to say, this tamps down on the university's official crime statistics.

  • I went to a private Catholic college back in the late '70's and graduated in '81.

    When I was on the school paper, we did a story about the campus security.
    It turns out that a lot of them back then were retired police officers or CO's (Corrections Officers).
    The didn't get paid much.
    The real local and town police who did some moonlighting, worked in Security at the Sears and the Mall where I worked. Their pay was pretty good.

    We didn't have much of a rape problem back then.
    Or, at least, not much of one that I know of.
    But who knows?
    Attitudes towards sex were still fairly loose after the late 60's but was starting to tighten up. Especially when Reagan got elected.

    I'm not saying that there was a ton of sex going on there, because, don't forget, this was a Catholic college, and as Billy Joel sang, "Catholic girls start much too late…"
    Sure, there was sex on campus.
    Just probably not as much as earlier, or later.
    But, again, who knows?
    I was a commuter, so I wasn't privy to what went on in the dorms too often.

    And then, after I was already working in NYC, the great sexual game changer that was AIDS hit this country.
    And with it, a change and rethinking in sexual behavior.

    We've come a long way in regards to defining rape.
    Too bad we still have a long, long way to go.
    Not just what's going on on campuses, but also in how we treat the women who were raped.

  • My impression is that contacting the local police will, many times, result in the local police feeding it off to the campus police. Is my impression correct? I don't know.

  • I don't really buy the idea that actual, factual cops are less likely to miscarry justice in the case of sexual assault than Paul Blart and the university discipline systems are. I went to Michigan State, where the campus cops were real cops, and it didn't keep MSU off the Title IX investigation list. Police and prosecutors don't generally seem that excited to touch rape cases that don't involve strangers with a weapon leaping out of the bushes, so I'm not sure they're much of a solution.

  • Color me surprised. I grew hip in Berkeley and had the impression that the UCB PD were real cops. Some schools have "security" but the distinction was clear. This just amplifies the drum I've been pounding for years: If you get raped do not discuss it with your RA, your favorite prof, the school health office, or even your best friend. Call 911, get in the ambulance, have the rape kit done at the ER, and report it to the local PD when they show up. Anything else you do just obscures the issue.

  • This came up at University of Oregon a couple of years ago, when the admin "sought the input" of students on the decision (already made) to convert the campus security into a real PD. Admin had the temerity to tell us that it would improve outcomes for victims of assault; I don't know if it has, since the only cases that come to light are still those investigated by city police, but hey, campus cops have guns now, so I guess all's well that ends well, or something.

  • It's actually even worse when they are sworn officers. Because they're still employees of the university, not the local city police force. Their boss is still the university president, not the chief of police. They're still subject to being fired if they do something that embarrasses the school, such as reporting a rapefest at the local fraternity instead of covering it up, or arresting the star football player for anything at all.

    And yet they're also officers of the law, with full police powers, so they can make your life miserable if their boss, the university president, tells them to.

    AND the real police, the disinterested ones who have a chance at handling the situation fairly, will defer to them about anything that happens on campus. Got raped by the star football player and you go to the local police? They WILL kick it back to the campus police if they're sworn officers.

    I would strongly prefer schools to have security that is nothing but security. When that is clearly conveyed, people should realize that "reporting a crime" to a mall rent-a-cop is worthless. Security is useful for yelling "hey kids, get off that lawn!" and not for dealing with any sort of real crime. Having sworn officers – all law enforcement on campus – under the control of the university president is a recipe for injustice.

  • Where I live the campus "police" are state troopers. My son and I were in court for another matter when some guy was trying to plead not guilty to theft of services (by trying to use the showers at a rec building where one had to be a member, and he wasn't) and lying to a police officer (who came to arrest him for the previous problem.

    He had never heard of a college where the campus police were actually police, and he kept insisting that they could not be. The whole audience was laughing at him.

    But, to return to the topic, the only cases of injustice I have heard about happened way back when the campus police were just security guys.

  • As with "Older", the SUNY cops are Staties. It doesn't mean that they're better or worse but they are trained and know the law better than most rent-a-cops.

    "They are an internal investigation to determine whether the case should be given over to the Real Police for a real investigation."

    They seem to be fairly proactive with that around here but that's just my take on it.

  • I went to UC San Diego from 1983-1988, and the police there were sworn California peace officers, and of course armed.

  • Each UC campus police department has a chief of police. From my limited research, it is not clear whether this chief reports to the Chancellor (the highest official on campus), the UC President (currently Janet Napolitano, the head of the entire UC system), or someone else.

  • Gatekeeping between victims and law enforcement, and using perceived authority to keep that foothold, is the same thing that kept pedophile priests from being arrested. Same process, and in a way, the same problem.

  • I just cannot fathom why colleges try to investigate and respond to rapes. Would anyone think it at all reasonable to have a college do the same for a murder? Aren't rape and murder sort of the yin/yang of the absolute worst crimes we can imagine?

    Why don't college students who have been raped just go to the real police to begin with? I know there are lots of problems with doing that, incl. not being believed and being mistreated and questioned as if the victims are the criminals (at least some of the time). But certainly this happens with colleges, and they seem to usually end up just white-washing the whole thing anyway, so what's there to lose?

  • Back in my college days (early – mid 1980s), there was a rape on the wooded hillside just feet from my on-campus apartment door. The entire block of apartments that faced the hill were all girls (just a fluke of housing), and we became aware of the rape when the state police came to our door and demanded to talk to us all, asking if we'd seen/heard anything. Alarmed for many reasons (not the least of which was that our front door and our bedroom windows were simple glass and we regularly jimmied our own windows open when we forgot our keys), we contacted the Office of Residential Life…who DENIED that a rape had occurred. Later that day, however, landscaping trucks came and tore down the woods and underbrush, so obviously a crime had taken place. My son's college (different from mine) has billboards and signs all over the place entreating students, "If you SEE something, SAY something", which of course wouldn't be necessarily if the campus was as crime-free as the school wants you to believe.

  • @grondo: I wondered the same thing, but a friend who is a civil rights lawyer for the Education Department, says Title IX requires it.

  • @grondo: because then one of the star football players may be "unfairly" accused of rape, instead of it being just the "terrible misunderstanding" it was.

    @anonymous: I believe the "If you see something, say something" has little to do with real crime, but rather bags and packages that were "forgotten" in the library or lecture theatre.

  • A person can be unfairly (or more precisely, falsely) accused of rape, just as with any other crime. Probably doesn't happen a lot with college rapes, though. The Economist did point out just this week or last that college women are LESS likely to be raped than their peers who are NOT in college.

  • Jeff Heikkinen says:

    Regarding the beginning of this post, my mileage definitely varies. I've met a lot more people who are surprised that some campus police (including those at both universities I've attended) ARE real cops, complete with the authority to haul you off to jail if you give them a good enough reason.

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