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Campus Police - Public Safety in a Microcosm

Author: Randall D. Larson

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-10-31
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A 9-1-1 Magazine Special Report

Expanded/Unabridged version of a story originally published in our Sep/Oct 2000 issue.

Public Safety response and communications on campus has as many commonalities with municipal, county, or state public safety as it has differences.  In many ways, a campus is a microcosm of a city or a county, with its own facilities, departments, and services, and the role and responsibility of public safety personnel is very similar to that of a municipal agency.  At the same time, the campus environment has its own unique challenges that differentiate campus police, fire, and EMS personnel from their public service cousins beyond the college boundaries.

Most campus police officers have the same powers of arrest as city and county law enforcement officers, granted through legislation, although most campus public safety departments also have non-sworn, unarmed service and security positions which supplement the sworn officers. The University of Southern California (USC) has one of the largest university law enforcement agencies in the US, with an authorized strength of 190 full-time officers and 150 unarmed, part-time student officers who provide a variety of law enforcement, security, and other services throughout the Los Angeles campus and the L.A. County-USC Medical Center.  95 unarmed Community Service Officers (CSOs) complement the enforcement division by providing security services to university residences and campus facilities.


Unique Environment

"The university community creates a unique public safety situation in that its presence on campus fluctuates," said Jack Cely, a dispatcher for the University Of North Texas Police Department.  "In the fall, campus is buzzing with activity, whereas during Christmas vacation we work in a virtual ghost town. This fluctuating presence demands that we as public safety operatives in a university setting embrace a variety of situations. While these situations do not occur in as great a volume as would be in a municipal or county setting, their scope is just as wide. While we do not respond to as many calls, we have to be prepared for just about anything."

"The fact that you are dealing with a small age range does have an effect on how dispatchers, officers, and other personnel do their jobs," said Ryan DesJardin is a Supervisor for Whitcom, a consolidated dispatch center located on the Washington State University campus in Pullman (WA).  You are dealing with incoming freshman who may be away from home for the first time and other relatively young adults."

The Central Michigan University Police Department employs 18 Police Officers, 14 Student Service Officers, 5 Building Security Officers who are students, and 10 Campus Escort Officers.  Three staff dispatchers handle communications in weekdays - on the weekends; Student Service Officers work the desk.

The University of Georgia Police Department employs 70 police officers and 9 communications dispatchers.  Kimberly Thomas is the Communications Coordinator for UGA and has worked there for 8 years.  "Campus departments have a stronger customer service oriented philosophy," said Kimberly.  "Because our workload is less, we have the extra minutes to really listen to each caller to better serve their needs."

Golden (CO) Police Dispatcher Kathy Cline agrees: “The Colorado School of Mines (CSM) does a lot of stuff that Golden PD would never do - jump dead car batteries, open up locked dorm rooms (city PDs usually don't carry keys to open people’s homes!).”  There are also political differences, as Cline notes: “While city officers basically answer to the citizens as a whole, CSM officers answer to where their funding comes from - the benefactors of the school.   This college is world known and there's a large diverse ethnic community on and off campus.  The city does not have files on every citizen whereas CSM does.  If we need information on a resident, CSM can pull their registration file and get information.  They are a great resource.”

There are some unique regulations that campus dispatchers must follow which may not always be understood by municipal agency dispatchers.  “I know, from being on the other end until recently, that sometimes when other departments call us and request information on students, they feel we are not cooperating with them,” said Kristy Oxholm at University of Vermont.  “We are bound by federal regulation (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) not to release certain information.  Since FERPA is foreign to those not involved in Campus Law Enforcement, it is misunderstood as lack of cooperation.  We certainly don't want to be perceived that way and are more than willing to suggest legal ways to obtain the needed information.”

 “The diversity of the campus population, students, staff, residents, and visitors makes for a unique situation,” said Robert Gundrum, a veteran dispatcher for Palo Alto (CA), which dispatches a special County Sheriff’s patrol that handles policing for Stanford University.  “Additionally are the numerous dignitaries that either live (George Shultz), attend (Chelsey Clinton) or visit (various foreign VIP's or Heads of State).”

"A campus has the closeness of a small town,” said Warren Lee, who has been a dispatcher for San Jose State University Police in California for 15 years.  The department consists of 30 officers and five dispatchers.  Fire and EMS protection for the downtown campus is provided by the San Jose Fire Department and American Medical Response. "You know a lot of the people and interact with them regularly." 

"On our campus, there are some tools available to us that are not available to the general law enforcement community," said University of Vermont Police dispatcher Kristy Oxholm.  "We have an option of pursuing action through the University's Judicial Affairs Program, which other agencies do not have at their disposal.  Sometimes the penalties assessed by Judicial Affairs are stronger and include counseling that would not be required by the court process."

“Because there are less calls than in the city, officers are able to be more visible to the students,” said a dispatcher from Florida Atlantic University PD.  “Many officers take time to walk the breezeway (our main corridor) during in-between class times to be seen by the students.  When a student does get in trouble, they can be offered more choices.  A dean's referral can be given for some violations as opposed to an arrest or Notice to Appear.  Many times this is harder on the student now, but doesn't ruin their record for the future.”


Campus Fire & Rescue

In addition for dispatching police, fire, and EMS for WSU, Whitcom handles communications for 45 different agencies in Whitman County and the City of Pullman, covering approximately 2,100 square miles. WSU also provides on-campus fire/EMS response for Whitcom’s 17,000 students.  A fire station is located in the same building as Whitcom and the WSU Police Department.  There are 5 permanent personnel and the rest of the station is manned by student firefighters.  In California, the University of Santa Cruz, UC Davis maintain their own fire departments; UCLA in Los Angeles has a fire protection department, but emergency response on campus is provided by LA City Fire.

Los Angeles’ Pepperdine University maintains a volunteer fire department, providing both experience and education for the student volunteers.

The University of Dayton (OH) maintains a Rescue Squad to protect the 14,000 people living in the college’s 3 square-mile campus.  The Rescue Squad, staffed by more than 60 full-time student volunteers, operates without a budget from the University on out donations and funds from the UD Police Dept.  The College of Charleston (NC) maintains a volunteer First Responder Unit which provides EMS for students and staff during daytime hours and overnights on weekends.

The University of Texas San Antonio dispatches on-campus fire and EMS services as well as police.  Five officers at the Francis Marion University in Florence (SC) are certified as EMTs and supplement the University’s Dept. of Public Safety with EMS capabilities.  Training and certification is maintained through Florence County EMS.


Dispatcher Training

The level and duration of dispatcher training for campus public safety agencies varies almost as much as that of government police dispatchers – from a week sitting with the most senior Staff Dispatcher at Central Michigan University Police Department to three months training at the University of Georgia and Washington State University.  California’s UOP dispatchers are sent to the state dispatch academy in Sacramento, with periodic ongoing in-house training provided by the department.

“We also supplement both our entry-level and on-going training emergency communications videotapes, practical exercises, outside communications and stress classes, and emergency communications articles/magazines,” said Kimberly Thomas, UGA.

Police Dispatchers for the University of North Texas and Washington State University are also trained and certified as Emergency Medical Dispatchers.  Whitcom’s dispatchers attend basic call taking courses provided by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.  A variety of other training is provided to most dispatchers through various venues, no different than opportunities provided to municipal agency dispatchers.

 “Campus dispatchers are trained as well as any other dispatchers,” said DesJardin at Whitcom.  “In the campus-only environment the call volume may not be as high as a municipal or county agency, but they are still professionals.”


Contrasts with Municipal/County Public Safety

Despite the core differences, campus emergency departments share the same goals as other public safety entities – it’s only the self-contained nature of the campus environment that produces the differences.

"Our campus public safety environment is similar to municipal and county departments in that it is practically a city unto itself," said Jack Cely, University of North Texas. "Our department is as large as or larger than other municipal and county agencies. We respond to the same types of calls and situations. At the most basic level we are similar in that we are charged with upholding the same laws as most other law enforcement agencies within the State of Texas."

"Since Whitcom dispatches for city and county agencies as well as WSU, we get a taste of both worlds," said Ryan DesJardin.  "WSU is similar to a municipal or county jurisdiction in many respects.  WSU Police and Fire respond to every manner of complaint and calls for service. The WSU police department is very active with traffic law enforcement and public safety."

 "In Vermont, we are extremely similar to other agencies," says Kristy Oxholm.  "All full-time officers (State Police, Municipal Police, Motor Vehicle Inspectors, Fish & Wildlife Wardens, Campus Police) attend the same academy together.  Because of this, there is little difference between the structure of departments and training of officers.  The differences are in the types of complaints that we handle.  I recently came to this department from a municipal department.  I can honestly say that I do not miss entering multiple runaway juveniles each shift!"


9-1-1 and Dispatching on Campus

Some campus police departments are primary 9-1-1 PSAPs for their on-campus facilities.  San Jose State University Police answer all 9-1-1 calls made on the campus.  Other colleges, such as Stanford University in California, route 9-1-1 calls to the Palo Alto Police Department, which dispatches law enforcement and fire onto the university campus.  In Colorado, the Golden Police Dept dispatch center handles 9-1-1 and dispatching for the Colorado School of Mines Department of Public Safety.  Other departments, like the University of North Texas, have their own dispatch centers but are secondary PSAPs that receive 9-1-1 calls only when transferred from the primary jurisdiction's Comm Center.  Some campuses consolidate dispatching resources.  7-digit emergency calls placed at Arizona State University’s East Campus in Mesa, for example, are routed to the ASU West DPS Dispatch Center in Northwest Phoenix, which provides dispatching for officers on both campuses. 

"All 911 calls initially go to the city of Denton consolidated communications center," said North Texas's Jack Cely. "Denton will almost always handle all Fire/EMS calls automatically. Calls requiring a police response in our jurisdiction are transferred to us and responded to."  The university police use an 800MHz trunked system for police dispatching, with a secondary channel used by campus security and an alarm technician. Dispatchers also monitor Denton's primary Fire and Police radio channels.

9-1-1 calls made from the Penn State University are answered by the Centre County Emergency Communications Center and routed to University Police dispatchers as needed.

Washington State University Police dispatchers have the unique system whereby they are also providing county wide 9-1-1 call-taking and dispatching services.  "To my knowledge we are they only University in the country that provide that service," said Ryan DesJardin.

Unlike bigger agencies that have separate call takers and radio dispatchers, not to mention other support service personnel who handle warrants, auto desk, evidence/property, records, booking, alarm monitoring, many university police dispatchers, such as those for San Jose State, have to perform all those functions themselves.

"We have to multitask a bit more than a larger department," said Blake Crary, a dispatcher for the University of the Pacific, near Stockton (CA).  UOP’s Public Safety Department employs 6 full time and 4 part-time police officers, plus command staff. “We have one dispatcher on duty who handles up to 3 radio channels at a time, the phones (including approx. 30 emergency phone boxes throughout the campus), an intrusion/fire alarm system that rings in to dispatch, with filing and indexing of reports into the computer squeezed in." UOP has four full-time dispatchers and one part-timer.   “We provide a slightly narrower range of police services and a much wider range of public services.  Every year, our population changes by nearly 25%,” added Crary.

Dispatchers for the University of Akron (OH) Police can access the Ohio Incident Based Reporting System to record crime reports.  After hours, the police dispatchers take on the added responsibility of handling Physical Facilities dispatching (the campus version of a Public Works Dept.) and answering University Operator phone lines. 

"Most departments in our area no longer monitor alarms," said Kristy Oxholm, of the University of Vermont Police Services.  "But we have multiple security and fire alarms on campus that we monitor.  We also answer the campus information line during the midnight shift in the summer months."

Many campuses also have emergency call-boxes located throughout the campus which ring into the college dispatch center.  Students attending the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, can summon police from any of over 175 emergency phones, for example. 

 “Although Stanford University has its own phone system, the 9-1-1 ALI/ANI always shows where the campus central phone office, instead of the actual address of the caller,” said Palo Alto dispatcher Robert Gundrum.  “When we receive a 9-1-1 call we must ask the address.  When a 9-1-1 hang-up call is received we must call a special number to obtain the location of the phone.” 

The 5 full-time dispatchers at the University of Texas San Antonio processed 101,059 calls in 1997 (an average of 277 calls per day).  The campus has an E9-1-1 system that captures the exact location on campus where the call originated.

While the Colorado School of Mines There is has no PSAP of its own, for the last two years the college has administered its own ANI/ALI, which means that when Golden Police dispatchers answer 9-1-1 calls made from campus, they receive the exact location of the caller instead of the main address of the school.  CSM officers have their own talk group on Golden PD’s 800 MHz radio system.  “Since CSM scans between their channel and the Golden PD and fire channels, they can monitor what is going on around campus, or what's happening on campus should a dispatcher send a city unit onto campus by error,” said Golden dispatcher Kathy Cline. CSM employs an office clerk and often one or two student dispatchers who staff the campus office during the daytime and early evening hours, handling a lot of walk-in traffic.  They also run their own data entries, warrant and history queries, alleviating Golden PD dispatchers of those tasks except on the midnight shift.


Customer Service on Campus

Because of its campus environment and the idea of being perhaps a more service-oriented agency than a city police/county sheriff's dept, campus police tend to emphasize customer service even more so than municipal agencies.  Lower crimes rates and fewer calls for service, as well as being more of a “privatized” agency than a municipal police department, many campus law enforcement officers find more time to emphasize public service, providing such services as jump-starting batteries and opening up locked cars for students who lock their keys inside.   With parking control taking up a lot of a campus officer’s patrol time, it’s natural for them to render automotive assistance when needed.

“It is easier as a campus public safety department to provide customer service,” said Jack Cely, U of North Texas.  “It is a recurring theme throughout the University, and it runs over into our department to a certain degree. Some of the things we do characterize a more personal service than a municipal or county agency would provide.”  Warren Lee of SJSU agrees: “Since we are in a campus environment, we handle more calls for courtesy service than bigger municipal/regional communication centers.”

“Things like Crime Prevention programs tend to be better accepted by a community that is here specifically to learn,” noted Kristy Oxholm, University of Vermont PD.  “We do tend to be more service oriented than municipal or state departments in the area.  Sometimes I think this spoils the students who then expect it from every police department!”

Dispatchers at Virginia Commonwealth University operate as the campuses general information center, providing directions, bus schedules, and other information to the community.

“It's part of CSM's routine duties to open up buildings for teachers/students,” said Golden (CO) dispatcher Kathy Cline.  “They have the time to do these things and it's rare that an officer cannot respond within 10 minutes to assist a caller.  If the city were the sole source of law enforcement, this would not happen.”

The college environment also affords opportunities for teaching assignments for police staff.  At Central Washington University, officers conduct between 60 and 75 crime prevention programs for the University community.


Challenges on Campus

Unique aspects of campus life than offers challenges for public safety officers includes the party atmosphere than can be found on weekends and during breaks, and the commensurate use of alcohol. 

“Dispatching for a campus environment can have many challenges,” said WSU’s DesJardin.  “Alcohol is the main cause of many disturbances and the close proximity of people in dorms and apartments.  The campus is very multi-cultural with students coming from dozens of different countries.  The campus hosts many major sporting events and often hosts dignitaries and prominent speakers.”

 “Our biggest challenge is alcohol and its use on and off campus,” said Whitcom’s Ryan DesJardin.  Most major crimes and many minor ones committed by students involve alcohol.  This is one of the factors that led to a riot on May 3, 1998 in which 2,500 students were involved and 23 officers were injured.  The riot led to a more cooperative effort by local agencies to work together, train together to address public safety on and off campus.”

Another challenge for campus public safety may be more equally felt by municipal departments – funding. “It’s not always easy finding the funding to keep up with changing technology and salaries here in the bay area,” said SJSU’s Warren Lee.  “But that is a problem for everyone in public safety in the bay area. In two to three months we will be moving into a new building with all new equipment. This is a first.”

While academic and athletic programs seem to constantly receive new equipment and resources, public safety often goes without new equipment for years. This creates an unique and challenging task to those who do this work. One dispatcher at Central Michigan University said the college athletic department has received new equipment and facilities each of the last 5 years while the police department is operating patrol cars with 90,000+ miles on them. "The University has opened 4 computer labs in the last 2 years but we still use Cards and an Complaint Book since we cannot get funding for even a simple CAD system," the dispatcher told 9-1-1 Magazine.

 “One of the biggest challenges is to maintain our staffing levels,” said UGA’s Kimberly Thomas. “When I first came to the department, there was a larger applicant pool to hire from. Over the years, that pool has grown increasingly smaller.”

Another challenge, noted UOP’s Blake Crary, is the attitude that campus cop’s aren’t “real cops.”  This is as true of campus PD’s that have true police powers as well as those whose “police” are in reality security officers, even though their mission is the same.  “We occasionally run into the ‘you can't stop me - you're a campus cop’ mindset,” Crary said.  “This doesn't happen very often, though.”

“Providing PSAP Service on a College Campus is a challenging experience,” said one dispatcher at Central Michigan University PD.   “There can be weeks of boredom during a summer break, but there is always the potential for some new situation that could only happen on a college campus. There are always the enlightening stories of Alcohol Related Incidents to share and the students can always surprise you with a new excuse you haven't heard yet!”


Rapport with Surrounding Jurisdictions

Most campus public safety agencies have a good working relationship with those departments – police, fire, and EMS – who surround it and with whom they work frequently.

“It has taken a while to gain the respect of other departments, since prior to 1992 we were a ‘security’ department,” said Kristy Oxholm in Vermont.   “Having worked in other surrounding agencies since before the transition to a ‘police’ department (and with that, full certification from the state) I know the respect has been earned and is no longer any type of issue.  The departments in this area regularly assist each other and our department is asked to assist just as much or more than others.”

 “Golden (CO) officers do not complain when asked to cover the CSM officers, nor do the Golden officers complain when their cover unit is a CSM officer,” said Kathy Cline.  “There have been times when CSM has come to us for assistance with cases, recognizing we are 'better’ at certain types of cases as we deal with them more often than CSM.  The Golden officers will offer whatever assistance they can and do not attempt to "take" the cases from CSM. This has changed over the years - as the CSM department strives to increase their training and equipment, the feelings have improved.”

 “We have generally a good rapport with our neighboring agencies,” said UGA’s Kimberly Thomas.  “I would like to see more networking with key supervisors/administrators due to the high employee turn-over rates though. I believe that this would definitely help maintain open lines of communications and serve to trouble-shoot; combined problems what we all may encounter.”

When a Vanderbilt University (TN) student is involved in an off-campus offence, University PD may assist with the investigation in cooperation with the outside enforcement agencies.  VUPD maintains direct two-way radio communications with city police, fire, and ambulance services.

“I think the hardest thing for our new dispatchers is learning/remembering that there is within our city this separate jurisdiction,” said Kathy Cline of Golden, CO.  “The campus boundaries are jagged but we have excellent maps and luckily the officers aren't very negative if a dispatcher sends one agency into the other’s jurisdiction by mistake.  GPD recognizes that during certain special events sponsored by CSM that we need to have extra personnel on duty in dispatch because of the impact to the community surrounding the campus.  One yearly event, CSM Engineering Days, is a large party on campus.  We routinely get high telephone complaints during these events because of the layout of the city, the music travels and can be amplified.  And then there’s the fireworks display that catches city residents off guard.  Several years ago, there was a riot on campus during Engineering Days.  Not only did it tax the Golden Police department for manpower, but we had to utilize the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol for assistance.  Since then, contingency plans each year are put in place should a repeat occurrence happen.”     

 “I would want other public safety dispatchers/responders to know that “We are professionals and should be given the same respect and required to perform as responsibly as any other dispatchers/responders,” said Jack Cely, University of North Texas PD.

“It's important to remember to take time to share our struggles and triumphs,” noted UGA’s Kimberly Thomas. “This builds comradeship and strengthens our working relationships before the crisis situations that forces us to work together. We're all working together by our concern for the public - just perhaps in different situations.”


9-1-1 Magazine editor Randall Larson began his career in public safety as a campus security officer in 1974, journeying through management roles in retail security and finally into police and fire dispatching.  He retired in 2009 as a senior dispatcher/field communications director for the San Jose Fire Department.   



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