Should campus cops have the same authority as regular police officers?

The point-blank shooting of a man by a University of Cincinnati police officer has re-fueled debate over how powerful campus cops are and should be.

John Minchillo/AP
Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing appearing at Hamilton County Courthouse for his arraignment in the shooting death of motorist Samuel DuBose on Thursday in Cincinnati. Tensing, who was indicted and fired from his job on Wednesday, shot and killed Dubose on July 19. Tensing pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter.

How much power should campus cops have?

That question echoed through the indictment of Ray Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop.

"They’re not cops," said prosecutor Joseph Deters at a press conference. "The university does a great job educating people, and that should be their job. Being police officers shouldn’t be the role of this university. I don’t think so."

But across the country, both university police and students are disagreeing. Reports show that the reach of campus cops is on the rise, with about 32,000 working in security and about half being sworn officers, permitted to carry a weapon and with full powers of arrest, according to NPR.

Some departments even have bomb squads.

The University of Cincinnati said that over the years, the jurisdiction of campus police has expanded, in large part due to the increasing demands of students and parents.

"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," Brian Reaves, a statistician at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, told Reuters

Supporters say the arrangement gives schools authority over students' off-campus behavior and lets campus officers investigate on-campus crimes committed by non-university people, reported the AP. "It can also ease the workload of resource-strapped municipal police departments."

The city of Cincinnati "has been hailed as one of the success stories of police reform in this century," reports the Atlantic. In the aftermath of race riots that erupted in 2001 over the use of police force against blacks, for example, local police underwent improved training and introduced new tactics that focused on community policing and limiting police aggression.

But these efforts didn’t extend to Cincinnati campus forces, reports The New York Times.

In the wake of the Samuel DuBose shooting, UC has suspended off-campus patrols and is performing a “top to bottom” review. 

The amount of authority wielded by campus officers is hardly a new issue, though researchers complain about the lack of comprehensive data on the oversight university police departments receive, according to The Atlantic

In 2013, 23-year-old student Cameron Redus was shot five times at close range by a campus police officer in San Antonio, Texas. The case provoked further outrage this year, when a grand jury decided not to indict the officer, reported KENS 5 News

Why, then, would students still trust university police?

Students and residents interviewed by the Times around the UC campus have expressed their support for the school’s police department, said the paper. 

"Students want to keep them," said Jen Steiner, a senior. "I feel like crime has gotten pushed out."

High-profile incidents, such as the Virginia Tech campus shooting in 2007 that killed more than 30 people, have driven fears of such tragedies happening again and raised calls for increased security.

After two shootings at the University of Southern California in 2012, another campus known for crime in its surrounding neighborhood, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck added more than 30 officers to patrol the vicinity and pledged to make USC the safest urban university in the country, according to the AP.

More than ever, students are hoping this latest shooting is an aberration. "Hopefully this will never, ever happen again," Melanie Jackson, a UC junior, told USA Today.

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