Keys to collaborating with local law enforcement

Know your limits, plan ahead, leverage your strengths, experts say

In the wake of several recent high-profile incidents involving campus police, there are growing questions about how campus authorities should coordinate with local law enforcement. For a Chronicle of Higher Education article, Meg Bernhard and Sarah Brown spoke with several experts about how to manage that  delicate and important relationship.

According to Bernhard and Brown, most campus police departments have signed agreements with local municipal police to structure their relationship. These so-called memoranda of understanding are a useful tool, but "effective work requires case-by-case coordination and constant communication," they write.

Should campus police be armed?

Experts highlight four areas where campus law enforcement should think carefully about how to coordinate with municipal authorities.

Shared resources: In many cases campus police departments won't have the resources to handle serious crimes, such as homicides, Bernhard and Brown write. Dolores Stafford, head of the National Association of Clery Compliance Officers and Professionals and a former police chief at George Washington University (GW), says campus police forces can compensate for their size by arranging to share resources, like crime labs.

In other cases, a school may decide to cede more authority to the local police force. For instance, Occidental College in Los Angeles only has a local patrol force that is not made up of sworn officers. But they do share a radio frequency with the Los Angeles Police Department so campus safety can quickly call for help.  

Taking the lead: Campus police forces should work closely with local law enforcement to come up with guidelines for which organization takes the lead in different types of investigations. Memoranda of understanding can be helpful, but complicated situations may require efficient ad-hoc coordination.

For instance, Kathy Zoner, chief of police at Cornell University, notes her officers may have responsibility off campus if a case involves students. 

Sharing data: Joe Vossen, associate risk-management counsel at United Educators, an insurance and risk-management firm, says sharing crime statistics and other data is an important part of effective collaboration. For example, Zoner notes that sharing sexual assault data could help local law enforcement solve off-campus crimes.

But William Taylor, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies and chief of police at San Jacinto College, says coordination can be difficult in some circumstances. For instance, local authorities are not always required to respond to institutions' data requests because they are not bound by the same federal regulations as colleges, he says.

Fighting sexual assault: A key area of coordination to emphasize, write Bernhard and Brown, is procedures to investigate and prevent sexual assault. In some cases, colleges have signed separate agreements with local law enforcement exclusively covering sexual assault.

Congress looks to crack down on how colleges handle sexual assault

Some argue local police department should play a larger role in investigating sexual violence.  But Taylor notes campus police departments may be better equipped to lead sexual assault investigations in some circumstances because their officers are more familiar with the nuances of the issue.

Barriers to coordination

Despite the importance of collaboration, in some cases local police departments resist formal agreements. Stafford, the former chief of police at GW, says local officers and GW police were occasionally confused because of the lack of a formal agreement—something she had pushed for.

Breaking down the town-gown divide

Zoner says larger metropolitan police department are often most resistant to formal agreements because so many local institutions request them. "Picture an investigative team that has different colleges who all want it different ways," she says (Bernhard/Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/3).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

Next in Today's Briefing

Is this school's new bookless library the future of academic libraries?

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague