Ohio shooting stokes debate over U.S. campus police forces

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 31, 2015 6:49 PM

By Edward McAllister

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For all that was shocking about a university police officer shooting a man at point blank range during a routine traffic stop near the University of Cincinnati campus this month, one thing was not.

Campus police across the United States, including Ohio's University of Cincinnati, now frequently patrol off campus with weapons, in regular contact with the ordinary, non-student population.

It is just one of the many powers held by the majority of campus police forces that have become a daily part of university life in the United States but this month came under unprecedented scrutiny.

Ranks have grown since campus policing began in earnest amid civil unrest in the late 1960s, as have resources, helping campus police departments become the well-equipped, career-based force they are today.

The debate over campus policing powers, long under discussion in the United States as fears of campus shootings and violence grow, heated up this month after a white officer Ray Tensing, 25, was charged with murder for shooting Samuel DuBose, a 43-year-old black man, just south of campus on July 19.

The encounter was caught in detail on Tensing’s body camera, footage of which was released this week by the Hamilton County prosecuting attorney Joseph Deters, who has called for the university police to be disbanded. The video shows Tensing shoot DuBose who was seated in his car and appeared to be preparing to drive off.

Tensing, who has pleaded not guilty, was released from jail on Thursday, according to the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. His next court date was set for Aug. 19.

University of Cincinnati campus law enforcement on July 23 said it would temporarily limit patrols to inside campus boundaries, making it an exception to a widely held rule in U.S. campus policing.

"People might be surprised to see an officer pull someone over outside the campus, but 90 percent of sworn officers have the jurisdiction to do that," said Brian Reaves, a statistician at the Bureau of Justice Statistics who has compiled reports on campus policing in recent decades.

According to a BJS study involving 4-year colleges and universities in the United States with 2,500 or more students, the jurisdiction of nine in ten campus officers in the school year 2011-12 extended to the immediate surrounds of the campuses. Over 75 percent of officers have jurisdictions further afield, many of which are defined by specific agreements with state and local police.

Campus police forces often work in tandem with regular police, but they are separate entities. Campus police are generally employed by the universities or colleges they patrol.

The four year colleges and universities surveyed employed over 31,000 law enforcement employees in 2011-12, up from 25,000 in 2004-05. About 75 percent of the campuses used armed officers, compared to 68 percent during the 2004-05 school year, the report said.

Some have bomb squads, even dive teams, experts said.

Campus police receive the same training as regular police officers, in the same academies, including weapons training. Some say that campus police are better trained in community relations and will respond to incidents on and near campus quicker than regular police.

Armed campus police officers patrolling on or off campus is not a problem for some, especially given the threat of campus shootings. A shooter at Virginia Tech in April 2007 killed over 30 people, prompting calls for more campus police to be armed.

"You give me a good campus police officer and you can put him in any police agency," said William Taylor, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement. "If you think about active shooters, people realize that officers in the field have to be able to meet that level of force."

The culture of campus police began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Taylor said, in response to growing protests against the Vietnam War, much of which occurred on university campuses. With the modern day threat of random shooters often acting alone, the calls have only grown.

But for others, arming campus police has gone too far. Only a few public universities in the United States have held out against arming their officers. One of the latest was the University of Rhode Island, which has had a police force since 1980. The University armed its officers earlier this year after a long debate which began with a shooting false alarm in 2013.

It was a controversial decision for some.

"More than ever now, I think it is a bad idea," said Frank Annunziato, executive director of the URI chapter of the American Association of University Professors who plans to call for police body cameras and even for the university police force to give up their weapons.

"The tragedy of Cincinnati could happen here."

(Additional reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Cincinnati; Editing by Diane Craft)