Rethinking Training for University Police Officers

University police agencies must strive to find the balance between meeting best policing practices and the needs of their communities. The training their officers undergo must reflect this balance.

Officer involved shootings over the past couple of years have prompted law enforcement agencies across the country to reassess their policing strategies, training requirements, and level of engagement with the communities they serve. In response to the community uproar over such incidents, the President formed a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In May, this Task Force released a report citing a number of recommendations that local law enforcement agencies across the country should implement in an effort to address community concerns, increase transparency, establish a culture of accountability and legitimacy, and improve police-community trust. 

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University police are often overlooked in the above discussion. The levels of authority among university police vary based on whether these officers are sworn, armed (according to a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, 75 percent of campuses surveyed have armed officers), and the extent of their policing authority beyond the borders of the campuses they patrol. University police are often perceived to have a lesser role within the larger context of traditional policing, despite the fact that a majority (92 percent) of public institutions use sworn officers who are often commissioned by the state or neighboring local law enforcement agency. This misperception could lead to differences in training requirements for university police. The most recent officer-involved shooting by a University of Cincinnati police officer raises two important questions: what are the training requirements for university police, and are these training requirements best serving their communities (both on and off campus)?

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Addressing gaps in training has been a large part of the COPS Office’s recent reports on reform in the Las Vegas Metropolitan and the Philadelphia Police Departments. These training gaps are often applicable to local law enforcement agencies across the country and as the recent incident highlighted, also applicable to university police agencies. University police agencies, like local law enforcement agencies, must strive to find the balance between meeting best policing practices and the needs of their communities; and the training their officers undergo must reflect this balance. In addition to meeting the requirements set forth by the state and/or neighboring local law enforcement agency, the training required of university police should also and most importantly be tailored to the needs of the community and include topics such as use of force, defensive tactics, de-escalation, cultural diversity and sensitivity, procedural justice, problem solving, and community-oriented policing. Training on such topics should also be conducted on a periodic basis and integrated in training plans and strategies. 

University police agencies should take a close look at the recommendations in the Task Force Report. Training is at the heart of this evolution in American policing, and as the recent incident highlighted, training standards among university police can no longer be overlooked. 

Denise Rodriguez King is a Research Analyst with CNA, a not-for-profit organization that provides analytic-based information relevant to police officers, criminal justice operators, researchers, public officials, and community stakeholders.

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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