You Get What You Pay for

I thoroughly enjoyed my work as a lieutenant with a university police department. I proudly served for 10 years, lived on campus and went to school there. I left the department I loved, however, because the salaries were nothing short of a disgrace.

The turnover bred inefficiency, a lack of respect for the department and a tarnished image of a fine institution. When I accepted a chief’s position for the local public school system, I quickly realized that the lowest paid officer in my new department – a four-year patrol officer – earned more than I had as a veteran lieutenant at the university. Since my leaving the university, its police chief has made considerable strides in raising the salaries of his officers and has managed to curtail what formerly was a disgraceful turnover rate. While salaries and benefits are clearly not the only indicators of the quality of a security or law enforcement agency, they are important tools for campus safety administrators to protect their campuses.

Police, Security Departments Must Have Fiscal Support

Closely related to the topic of pay is training. While talking to a reporter following the incident where university police officers in Florida used a stun gun to subdue an unusually rude, disruptive student, I raised the issue of officer training and practice of perishable skills like control and restraint techniques.

Although it is easy for many to criticize the manner in which the officers subdued the student, I have to wonder how much regular training the officers were provided in the use of force. I also wonder if the police department has adequate fiscal support from the university in terms of training, salary and benefits.

In my own experience, I finally felt comfortable as a chief of campus police when we were able to require all sworn personnel to attend a mandatory 40-hour use-of-force refresher training program each year. As a result, use of force in the field, beyond open hand control and restraint, was extraordinarily rare.

Training Pays Off When Coupled With Appropriate Salaries

Some campus and municipal police chiefs expressed shock to learn that we provided this much training to our officers. The first comment they often made was that such training was not practical due to the high turnover rates in their agencies.

Because the salaries in our department were very competitive, however, our turnover rate was a fraction of that of many area agencies. Additionally, our officers were far better equipped than their municipal counterparts, our working conditions were excellent, and our morale was high.

Successful security and law enforcement agencies rarely fall far below the regional averages for salaries and benefits. Unfortunately, there are still those K-12, college and hospital officials who mistakenly believe that somehow the job of a campus law enforcement officer is less demanding and, therefore, not worthy of comparable salaries, benefits, training and equipment.

While many college administrators are no doubt questioning the appropriateness of campus officers carrying stun guns, I would instead question whether many campus police and security personnel are getting enough use of force refresher training to allow them to practice for extremely challenging situations such as the one faced by the Florida officers.

Many people don’t consider that the officers did not know if this individual could have also been dangerous to the high profile speaker as well as the attendees. As this article goes to print, I too have concerns with what I apparently saw on the one-dimensional video of the event. Still, I focus on some core questions while the investigation runs its course.

The horrific attacks at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and other campuses along with the disruptive student in Florida are stark reminders that our campus safety officials face difficult and challenging situations.

Are campus safety administrators provided with adequate budgets to attract, prepare, equip, train and retain the highest caliber of officers to meet the unique challenges of campus law enforcement? Take a look at the results of the Third Annual Campus Safety Salary Survey and see how salaries stack up.

An internationally recognized authority on campus safety and the author of 19 books on the topic, Michael Dorn is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. Dorn, a member of the Campus Safety Advisory Council, works with a team of campus safety experts to make campuses safer around the globe through Jane’s offices in nine countries. He can be reached at schoolsafety@janes.com.

About the Author

Contact:

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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