UC cops confined to campus: How well trained are campus police?

After the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose by UC officer Ray Tensing, Cincinnati banned campus officers from patrolling off-campus neighborhoods. 

Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Reuters
University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing (r.) looks into Samuel DuBose's vehicle after DuBose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015.

The Cincinnati City Council has voted to suspend off-campus patrols by University of Cincinnati police officers, following the fatal July 19 shooting of 43-year-old Samuel DuBose by campus officer Ray Tensing.

Mr. Tensing, who was indicted for murder last week, is accused of shooting the unarmed Mr. DuBose after pulling him over for lacking a front license plate, about a half-mile from the University of Cincinnati campus. 

Such traffic stops are routine for the University of Cincinnati Police Department (UCPD), according to a University of Cincinnati report showing more than 2,000 stops initiated by officers this year. That’s more than double the number of stops made in 2013, when the UCPD first entered into an agreement with the Cincinnati Police Department that allowed campus officers to patrol some municipal police districts within the city.

Supporters say the agreement gives schools authority over students' off-campus behavior, allows campus officers to investigate on-campus crimes committed by people not affiliated with the university, and eases the workload of municipal police departments, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

But this arrangement, which is not unique to Cincinnati, has come under fire in recent weeks as some argue that a UCPD officer wasn’t qualified to pull Dubose over in the first place. 

"They’re not cops," said prosecutor Joseph Deters at a July 31 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.”

S. Daniel Carter, director of a campus safety initiative formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, says university law enforcement officers are more important – and qualified – than people realize. 

"I think campus policing is widely misunderstood," Mr. Carter told The Washington Post last week. “Many people think of them not as real police, dealing with inconsequential matters. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

According to a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, two-thirds of four-year US colleges with 2,500 or more students use sworn police officers in their campus departments, including 9 out of 10 public schools. 

These sworn officers undergo the same training procedures as local or county police, and have full arrest powers granted by a state or local authority, neither of which may be true for "nonsworn" officers, says the BJS. "On average, sworn campus police officers were required to complete about 4 times the training as nonsworn officers prior to employment," according to the report.

"We have the same training, the same continuous training, the same background standards" as municipal police agencies, said William F. Taylor, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, to The Washington Post.

The BJS survey shows that in 2012, 75 percent of all colleges employ armed officers; in 2004-05, it was only 68 percent. In colleges with sworn officers, that number rises to more than 90 percent.

As campus police departments grow larger and are granted more power on and off campus, the job is also starting to attract a different kind of officer than the traditional "campus cop," says Carter. 

"Many of them are career campus police officers," he said. "It used to be a hodge-podge, officers on the way up, officers on the way to retirement. I think many people don’t appreciate just how important a role they have."

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