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Another Voice: Increase in powers of campus police is troubling

By Nicholas Casale

From crowd control to working with government law enforcement, from heavy-weapons training to counterterrorism cooperation – the role of the campus cop has exploded, expanding in size, scope and power while morphing more and more to look and act like a municipal force.

Critics say campus cops don’t have to answer to elected officials nor do they have to disclose guidelines governing use of force or stop and frisk, raising many questions about oversight and accountability.

Yale University campus cops accosted New York Times social justice editor Charles Blow’s son at gunpoint because the third-year African-American student fit the description of a burglary suspect, according to a spokesman.

Most campus police departments also enjoy protections from Freedom of Information laws, unlike their municipal counterparts.

Critics say there is a growing divide between students of color and law enforcement on college campuses.

A University of Cincinnati police officer was charged with the murder of a black motorist he shot during a routine traffic stop. The city prosecutor called for the university police force to be disbanded, saying Cincinnati police officers are better trained to manage law enforcement issues on the campus.

Campus police departments teamed up with government intelligence agencies after the 9/11 terror attacks. The FBI’s post-9/11 Campus Liaison Initiative has agents appearing at universities to gather intelligence, according to the agency website.

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are worried that this new friendship will have university cops monitoring speech, political dissent and religious activities.

Critics say universities don’t need police authority and a military mind-set to patrol school grounds, and point to major institutions like Columbia University and New York University with sprawling campuses in Manhattan choosing unarmed security and leaving the NYPD to handle police matters.

Cornell University employs a private police force empowered as “special Tompkins County deputy sheriffs” to regulate traffic, protect property, prevent crimes and enforce laws on campus with reduced peace officer powers.

Absent police officer authority, these special deputies cannot obtain or execute search or arrest warrants. Yet they conduct criminal investigations, secure evidence and interview witnesses without public oversight.

Having local police handle campus crimes makes the most sense.

Nicholas Casale, of New York City, is a retired New York City police detective and former deputy director of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.