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Campus Cops on Municipal Streets Raises Transparency and Accountability Concerns

by Virginia Griese

The use of private, gun-carrying university campus police is raising concerns about the accountability and transparency of these forces.

“No Justice/ No Peace/ No Private Police” was the chant that protesters used at the Maryland General Assembly in spring 2018 when Johns Hopkins University announced its support for legislation that would allow privately owned institutions to develop their own police forces.

Lawmakers refused to endorse the proposal, noting lack of community support, but they plan to revisit it.

Many universities and other nongovernmental entities employ private police forces that are typically equipped and empowered as that of regular law enforcement. But these campus cops are not required to have the same transparency as regular law enforcement even though they police campuses and the surrounding residential areas.

Without the ability to see all policing actions and decisions, campus cops lack the accountability of their municipal counterparts. In the name of being a department of a private institution, administrative records, such as misconduct investigations and disciplinary records, are often kept hidden from public scrutiny.

As surrounding neighborhoods gentrify around campuses, these private cops begin to bleed their reach into the streets, and the disparity in treatment between students and regular citizens becomes apparent. Temple University Police Department – the largest force of its kind in the country with 130 officers – arrest fewer students than nonstudents. And the lack of transparency by Temple University Police makes it difficult to ascertain what cases are referred for prosecution, and which incidents are referred for internal “disciplinary action.”

While private agencies may have the ability to shield their actions, federal legislation does require a certain amount of baseline crime and arrest statistics. For instance, Temple University records dated from 2015 to 2017 indicate that while 2.2 percent of incidents involving drugs or alcohol on campus or in student buildings ended in arrests, in the streets, the statistics jumped to 50 percent.

Attorney Bob Levant, who won a settlement involving a citizen who was crushed by a Drexel University police cruiser in 2011, stated, “Any time a municipality or a university is overseeing an armed police force, the discipline process and its results should be publicly available to assist in public oversight and transparency. They’re patrolling city streets. The public has a right to know what their disciplinary process is and what discipline is meted out.” 




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