White woman faculty member encounters campus “police.”

Perhaps like many of you, I was appalled but sadly not shocked by the senseless murder of Samuel DuBose by University of Cincinnati “police officer” Ray Tensing.  The only thing that surprised me is 1) what violent people are willing to do even when they know the cameras are rolling, and 2) that Tensing was indicted yesterday on murder and manslaughter chargers.  Also 3) why the f^(k are campus “police” issued service revolvers?  This is clearly a risk to public safety on and near our campuses.

Higher education needs to look to itself to address the militarization of campus “police forces.”  It’s not just the state troopers and municipal police, but the so-called campus “police” who patrol our workplaces and our students’ educational and recreational spaces.  DuBose’s death has moved me to share my encounters with campus “police” over the past twenty years of my life as a faculty member.  Yes, me!  Goody-two-shoes white faculty lady!

Isn’t it interesting that I have nothing to report about my encounters as a student and graduate student with campus “police,” and that all of my encounters with “police” at different institutions have been as a fellow employee at universities?  Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw.  Maybe it suggests that I was a supreme nerd-goody two-shoes as a student and then became a public safety menace as a faculty member.  (That’s funny, though, because 100% of my actual law-breaking was done as an undergraduate underage drinker.)

Around the time I was in college in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the people on the campus who were once called just “security” began to insist on several different campuses that they now be called “campus police.”  Never mind that the spaces they patrolled were dedicated to work, study, and student fun–all university students and employees were now “policed” rather than “secured” on their campuses.

My first encounter with campus “police” was in the winter of 1996, when I was a Visiting Lecturer at the Catholic University of America.  I was working in my office on a late Sunday afternoon or early evening–it wasn’t late at night, but the winter sun had already set.  I probably had a radio on in the background, which precipitated my door being opened suddenly and violently by an agitated campus “police” officer.  No knock, no announcement that he was about to burst in–he just assumed that anyone in my office must be there for nefarious purposes.  I assured him that I was in my own office and possessed a key to the door.   I thought it was weird that he was so agitated, because my office was in the basement of a student dorm, so therefore not a place on campus where it would be strange to see lights and hear music outside of work hours.

My second encounter with campus “police” was in the late 1990s when I was teaching at the University of Dayton.  Arriving at campus early one morning, I was confused by the maze of parking lots where my parking permit now allowed me to park.  I drove the wrong way for 15 feet, into an exit-only lane for one parking lot–that was wrong, but there were no other cars moving in the lot at the time, so there was no danger to anyone because I missed the “exit only” sign.  I was immediately pulled over (lights flashing and siren blaring!) by a campus “police” officer.  When I (naively) moved to get out of my car to have a conversation with the “police” officer, I was screamed at “Get back in the car!  Get back in the car!” by the overwrought cop.  His anger and apparent lack of judgment and personal control scared me, so I got back in the car.  Imagine what might have happened if I were in my teens, and/or African American, and/or male, and/or not wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase?

When I got to my office, I told a trusted senior colleague what had happened.  This man was a Marianist priest, a distinguished scholar, and a former high-level administrator at the university.  His comment was something like, “Yeah, those campus ‘police’ are out of control.  They’re outrageously aggressive with people who pose no threat, and they don’t confront the people who are dangerous to themselves and others.”  UD at the time was famous for students who 1) regularly lighted couches on fire in the streets of their university-owned houses, and 2) would have a student die as a result of a night of drinking and a fire started by his housemates when they decided to have a burning paper-towel fight.

Ignore the public underage drinking and mayhem on university property.  It was those faculty and staff members arriving at 7:30 in the morning they really needed to keep an eye on.

That put an end to my personal encounters with campus “police.”  But twelve years ago, I had an undergraduate student named Mark who told me that he was arrested and illegally detained on the Baa Ram U. campus for (get this) drunk walking.  Mark was 21, and had sensibly and prudently decided not to drive but rather to walk uptown with some friends to drink at a bar.  Mark decided to go home a little earlier than his friends, so he was walking alone across campus to his off-campus apartment when he was stopped by campus “police” who asked if he had been drinking.  He said “yes,” because it was obvious, and he was a little intoxicated.  But he was 21!  He was walking home!  No matter:  the campus “police” insisted that he was a danger to himself and forcibly detained him.  They told him they stopped him because he was wearing flip-flops on a cold spring night.

Mark always wore flip-flops, summer, fall, winter, and spring.  Even when it was snowy or slushy, he wore flip-flops!  This became something of a trend among the young men at Baa Ram U. in the mid-2000s, but Mark was the first student I remember doing this.  (Flip-flops are legal even in winter in Colorado so far as I can tell, although a poor choice as functional footware.  I think the discomfort was part of their charm–a statement about one’s machismo through indifference to cold.)  Campus “police” detained Mark and then drove him to a “drunk tank” facility 30 miles away and left him there for the night because he was wearing flip-flops and because he argued with them about being stopped for drunk walking.

None of these encounters were called for.  In each case, campus “police” officers manufactured a problem and responded with inappropriate aggression.  (In Mark’s case, I’m sure it was illegal imprisonment as well.)  Although all of these stories happened years ago, I am newly outraged by each of them because of the senseless murder of Samuel DuBose.  I feel like I’ve met Ray Tensing on three different campuses.  I bet you’ve met him too, in one guise or another, on the campuses where you’ve studied and worked.  Tell your stories.

32 thoughts on “White woman faculty member encounters campus “police.”

  1. My SLAC has “campus safety officers” (unarmed), and the local village police force regularly deals with our students. Often I am sympathetic to the village cops: in a legendary (but true!) incident, we had two students drunk and having sex on the village green late one night. A cop walked up to tell them to move on and the white woman involved PUNCHED him. Somehow, he managed not to shoot her. On the other hand, a few years ago I had a mixed-race student who had a flat tire and discovered a big chunk had been taken out of it. She called the police, convinced that someone had slashed her tire. The white cop immediately assumed that she was lying about how her tire got damaged, and threatened to arrest her for drunk driving or filing a false report or several other things. He was quite angry but did not actually arrest her, and she came to me in tears. Our dean handled it, and concluded that the cop was being a major jerk. I suspect that my student was actually mistaken about how her tire got damaged, but that’s a long way from assuming that she’s lying to cover up her own bad behavior. I am sure that if she were white, the cop would not have jumped to that conclusion and gotten so angry.


    • Thank goodness they’re not armed on your campus. I’m not sure if they’re armed on my campus. How is it that your campus security officer was close enough to the drunken public sex couple to get punched? Although it’s good that no one got shot, couldn’t he issue his order from more than an arm’s length away? (Why would he need to be that close, unless he was getting off on watching them?) Seems like pretty poor judgment to me.

      Another thing that came up in the coverage of DuBose’s murder: the campus “police officer” was patrolling an off-campus neighborhood! How was it legal for him to stop anyone? I get it that students live off-campus and I don’t object to campus “police” patrolling, but how are they empowered to enforce municipal and state traffic laws? That’s a job for the city police and the staties.

      Finally, I don’t know what form of transportation black college students should use. When they drive, they get pulled over; when they use bikes, they’re frequently accused of stealing their own. Can’t win.


    • That was Davis, not Irvine!

      And it wasn’t something that happened on my campus. I can only report what I’ve experienced directly or heard from a reliable witness on my own campuses. But given that I’ve seen and experienced this level of attempted intimidation, I think that suggests that there’s a much larger problem with thugs empowered as “campus police.”


  2. This story will sound goofy and may not fit what you’re looking for, Historiann, but I still shudder a bit when I recall it. About 20 years ago I was an assistant professor at an urban campus whose gendarmes carried police revolvers. One evening I was working peacefully in my office with the door open. No colleagues or students around. Security guy at the doorway. He looked familiar but I didn’t know him.
    Rent-a-Cop: Professor Firstname LadyProf?
    LP: Yes?
    Rent-a-Cop: I have a warrant for your arrest.
    I literally swooned. Didn’t pass out but felt a wave of dizziness and nausea.
    Haha, he was kidding. He thought I should have known that as a white young ladyprof I couldn’t possibly be under arrest. To his credit, the guy seemed troubled by my deathly pallor and I think he regretted his joke.
    Like other white people who talk about their unpleasant encounters with armed security men, I know that what I experienced was nothing compared to what my fellow Americans of color endure. But it gave me a taste of the aggression, the sadism, the gratuitous troublemaking, and the almost total lack of accountability that these people enjoy. I wonder, does anyone feel genuinely protected by cops and security guards?


    • This is exactly what I’m talking about: the creation of a menace where none existed, just to f^(k with people. And you’re right: you’re white, I’m white, I should have pointed out that my student Mark described above is white. We don’t see the half of the thuggery, but we’ve seen a glimpse of the sadism and grandiosity at work with campus “police.”


  3. My encounters with LRU’s campus police have been professional and reassuring. I once received a death threat on my campus phone. They sent a very polite office in minutes to listen to the message and talk to me. When I felt threatened by a student in class, who yet had not done anything troublesome enough to be removed, they had patrols in the hallway till things calmed down. Once, long ago, not long after I’d started driving to campus instead of biking, I was pulled over for going the wrong way on a one-way drive; I got off with a warning, which I think was pretty typical. LRU has some problems, but I don’t think our campus cops are among them. They do a lot of outreach to student groups about being safe (walking while drunk instead of driving; providing escorts to group members; that sort of thing).


  4. I don’t think I’ve actually seen a campus police person on my campus. They never get out of their cars, which I do see driving around from time to time on my part of campus. So at most I’ve seen the “meter maids” who don’t get actual cars (they get golf carts and segway like vehicles), wear reflective gear, and just give out tickets.


  5. Back in the first ice age, when I was an undergraduate, my Fancy Pants U did not have police, but (get the Anglophilic language) proctors. It was illegal to have a toaster or cook in your room. So one evening I had been at a great dinner party in a friends room, during which some illegal substances were consumed. We were OK until the toaster oven that was cooking the pop-tarts (gourmet dessert!) set off the smoke detector. Illegal substances and bong immediately went outside the window, … then proctor comes in, and say, “oh, toaster. That’s not legal.” We said, it’s off, and he left. The joys of being white privileged undergrads. . .Don’t ask, Don’t tell was the rule on the illegal substances. It was a friendly relationship.

    Our campus police are state peace officers; since there is a county park next to our campus, they are occasionally called out there at night. The one time an officer has been involved in a shooting it was there.


  6. Oh, and what intrigued me about the Cincinnati incident is that because many students live off campus, parents are apparently concerned that the campus police DO patrol off campus. Like most universities, the surrounding neighborhood is poor…


  7. I went to a slac where students were strongly encouraged to call campus security rather than the local police for all matters. The one time that I called security, it was for a clearly rabid animal that was aggressively walking around the parking lot. The security officer told me that there was nothing that she could do. When I told her that I would call animal control, she actively tried to dissuade me from doing so because they would put the animal down. It was a fairly low stakes situation in the grand scheme of things, but I was/am troubled that campus security would try to stop students from calling the authorities when they were unable to provide the necessary support.


    • But isn’t putting down a rabid animal the only remedy? (Old Yeller, anyone?)

      She was chickenshit, but you should have called anyway, out of respect for the other animals and humans that might be attacked by the rabid, dying animal. But I understand your instinct to defer to a putative authority, and I take your larger point though absolutely, which is about how campus “police” collaborate with universities to keep actual law enforcement out of the messes and crimes on their campuses. (ACTUAL crimes and threats, not manufactured by the campus “police” like most of the stories in this thread.)


  8. I went to graduate school at Ohio State. In fall 2004, my second year, I needed to go back to my office to get a book — on a football Saturday. Kickoff was at noon; I got to campus at about 8:30, thinking it would be early enough to avoid problems. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.) Campus was deserted except for the campus police blocking off certain streets. I pulled over and got out of my car to ask a nearby cop (who was doing nothing at a deserted intersection) what the best way would be for me to get to my office. He didn’t even give me a chance to get out a complete sentence. He screamed at me to get back in my car and almost immediately — within fifteen seconds — he was shouting into his radio, “I have a suspect resisting arrest!” What was I suspected of? Arrest for what?? Before he could make his way over to me, I jumped back into my car and drove away. I laughed about it with my friends afterward, but I was so shaken by the completely unwarranted hostility that the memory still makes me feel a little sick, even more so when I consider that I’m a white lady. What could that cop have done (or what did he do) to anyone not operating with white privilege?


    • Wow. It’s good to know what OSU’s priorities are! Football all the way.

      Your story is 10x worse than anything I describe above. Sheesh.


  9. Historiann, don’t forget the notorious Baa Ram U Chief of Police Dexter Yarbrough’s resignation in 2009 for sexual harassment charges, reports of intimidation, falsified police reports, and more galore! http://archives.collegian.com/2009/03/22/csu_police_chief_dexter_yarbroughs_leave_followed_sexual_harassment_complaint/

    I recall being told that Baa Ram U PD can follow you anywhere in the state of Colorado as they are state employees. That info probably needs verified but possibly answers your question as to why they can go off campus.

    Spouse and I were always concerned with Baa Ram U police–the segways, bike cops, Dodge chargers, and everything that happened under Yarbrough while I was there. Lots of money spent and never felt secure, as you put it, merely policed.


  10. It really comes down to command and control and accountability, in the full constitutional sense of those terms, above and beyond the cultural issues in play here. Policing power, however necessary, is an inherently dangerous thing. Theoretically, a large public university could have a police department whose members were trained right alongside actual cops, or a department that was even incorporated into the local municipal force as a separate division; not dissimilar to the National Park Police in D.C. But as a practical matter, the lines of authority, chains of command, go up to where everything on campus does, the president’s office. So a lapsed physicist who has been getting tired of aggressive right hand turns near the president’s house (as I certainly would) decides to redeploy resources, the same way ze would restructure the financial aid office, only the consequences land on the street, and differentially land people in jail–or worse. An unaffiliated person driving down a street *near* the campus, even if with evidence of criminal behavior in the trunk, has a right not to have hir likelihood of being stopped, searched, and whatever comes after that shaped by the recent thinking of somebody who just got an honorary degree for decades old stochastic equations. And when the university in question is a private one, the troubling implications of improper locus and exercise of power are even more acute. I’ve had law profs tell me that as long as privately employed officers are trained and “sworn,” whatever that means, it’s fully permissible and appropriate for them to have powers of arrest and the like. I think not.


    • I agree that as Ben Franklin advised us, fish rots from the head down. But it’s not just a matter of individual malfeasance; this campus cop-shoot-’em-up thing is nationwide.

      Can it really be true that any rent-a-cop who’s “sworn” has any more power than the rest of us to do a “citizen’s arrest?” No power to pull people over. No right to shoot! Could a campus “police” officer go up into the high country and decide to patrol I-70 in his off hours? That’s crazy!


  11. At my current institution I’ve generally had good interactions with our security people (I’m white and majority culture for my area). There are no guns allowed on campus, period, so our campus security is unarmed. Some of my colleagues are disturbed by that but I think it’s good.

    I have been known to keep odd hours, especially in the final push before I travel for conferences and such. Generally I’ll pop into the office pretty late (10:30, 11 pm) the night before I’m traveling to tie up loose ends. Occasionally I’ve run into security people who are surprised but pleasant about someone being in my building – I’ve interrupted some late night dinners on my way to the bathroom, for example. But for my most recent trip, I was pretty tired and so my partner (who is not white) drove with me to campus. Summer evening (we don’t have summer school), 11 pm, faculty parking sticker. He drove the way everyone drives around campus – maybe 20 mph instead of the posted 15. As we’re walking into my building one of the security people shouts at us from her car. I couldn’t understand what she said so I shouted, I’m faculty going to my office, assuming she was just concerned about someone going into the building so late. But no – she looked at my partner and said “Don’t drive so fast.” Because on an empty campus in late summer in the middle of the night, a brown man driving 20 mph is something that needs to be addressed. Ugh.


    • This is what I mean about the difference between being “secured” and being “policed.” WTF?

      (At least she didn’t pull him over, lights flashing and sirens blaring?)


    • Thanks, Susan–I missed that last night. It’s a good review of the militarization of campus “police” forces over the past several years. It’s also another great testament to how football completely distorts university work and life. Although the report suggests that there are more “sworn” officers now (per Indyanna’s comment–officers who carry guns & can police & patrol on and off campus) because of the rise of campus mass-murders, the bulk of the discussion seemed to focus on policing a campus on game day!

      Sheesh. If we weren’t already awash in booze, guns, bread & circuses, we’d all be so much safer–but there’s no conversation about reducing harm that way. No, it’s just MORE GUNS, ALL THE TIME!


  12. Pingback: The Barney Fife and Dumb Corps | From Pine View Farm

    • I saw this yesterday–thanks for posting the link here.

      It’s really dispiriting, isn’t it?

      I thought about the issue of concealed and open-carry laws, because here in Colorado it’s nice’n’legal on university campuses. But the fact of the matter is that most of us are unarmed all day long, and university “police” are effectively a private security detail. Why should we permit them to carry deadly weapons? (Why would they want them unless they’re a bunch of macho psycho gun-happy municipal-police force wannabes? Oh. . . )


  13. As Susan points out above, it seems like the reach of campus police is continually expanding geographically, too, as parental demands for zero risk student experiences (well, except for the actually existing threats from Greek life) increase. This was definitely the case at BFU, where campus police patrol the zone of West Philly where students life and frats/sorority houses are located. And they have some kind of official status past the official campus boundaries through a deal with the PPD.

    According to their website, “The University of Pennsylvania Police Department (UPPD), with 116 members, is the largest private police department in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and maintains the second largest number of full-time sworn police officers amongst all private Universities across the United States, and the third largest number of sworn police officers for all Universities nationwide, both public and private.” And “All personnel of the UPPD are full-time sworn municipal police officers certified through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officers Training and Education Commission, and retain general law enforcement authority and order maintenance for the area in which the University of Pennsylvania is situated.”


  14. This sounds to me like you just don’t like being called out on your bullshit. You went the wrong way, you got pulled over. Jee what a jerk that cop was for stopping people from breaking the law. The law or rule was made for safety. Are you an expert on safety? Did you study that intersection to determine what rules/laws would best regulate safe traffic flow? You didn’t.

    Ever notice how the people who hate the “enforcers” are simply the folks who can’t take responsibility for their actions. They don’t want to own their mistakes or the simply don’t want to comply with the rules and laws that keep us safe and our country peaceful.

    It has been proven over and over and over again that the only thing that stops a ‘bad guy’ with a gun is a ‘ good guy’ with a gun. So let’s ask ourselves… It it really the guns we have an issue with? Or is it that we just have a have a hard time choosing the “good guys” to protect us. Unless you have a better idea on how to stop an armed “bad guy” with a gun…. We still gonna need those “good guys” who are better trained and have one too.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.