Around two-thirds of American colleges and universities now have armed law enforcement officers with full arrest powers, according to a Justice Department report. This is despite crime rates continuing to fall across the United States.
Colleges employ 32,000 law enforcement personnel, according to the review. Sworn campus police officers are used for security at 92 percent of public institutions, a much higher number than at private campuses, where 38 percent of schools have sworn officers. Those personnel used at public establishments have full arrest powers.
Of these sworn campus officers, 94 percent are authorized to use a sidearm, chemical or pepper spray, while 93 percent are allowed to use a baton and 40 percent to use a Taser. The report shows in the instances where colleges hired non-sworn law enforcement recruits, only 11 percent are authorized to use firearms, 48 percent to use chemical or pepper spray, and 32 percent to carry a baton. Just four percent have the authorization to use a Taser.
The findings come from a Bureau of Justice Statistics report on a survey of the 2011-12 school year that focused on campus law enforcement.
The report also found that more full time law enforcement officers were hired (16 percent more) during the 2011-12 school year in comparison to the increase in student enrolment (11 percent). Nearly all campuses had a mass notification system that used email, text messages and other methods to alert and instruct students, faculty and staff in emergency situations.
While more campus officers carry guns; violent crimes on college campuses only accounted for three percent of offences in the 2011-2012 survey – a drop of 27 percent since the last survey in 2004-05. Nationwide, violent crimes make up 12 percent of serious reported crimes. At educational facilities, violent crimes affected 45 within every 100,000 students compared to a national average of 386 per 100,000 residents.
Even as guns are becoming more common, federal authorities do not track how often weapons are used, the report’s author, BJS senior statistician Brian Reaves said.
“There is no DOJ requirement for reporting the use of weapons by police,” Reaves told AP by email. “The individual agencies would likely have records of this, but DOJ does not attempt to collect this information as part of any systematic data collection.”
Experts said campus administrators are increasingly pressed for assurances by parents that officers are well-equipped and well-trained following high-profile crimes such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings and the Penn State child sex abuse case.
“Compared to 10 years ago, we’ve made drastic improvements to become more professional, more accountable and more responsive to the expectation of our campus community,” Florida State University police chief, David Perry, who serves as president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators told AP.
“Parents are asking up front … do you have weapons, can you respond to an active shooter if there was a situation on your campus?” he added.