Davidson College awaits state Supreme Court decision regarding policing powers

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Monday, July 18, 2011

DAVIDSON, N.C.—Davidson College awaits a decision by the Supreme Court of North Carolina about whether or not its campus law enforcement officers will continue to have fully sworn policing powers despite the college’s religious affiliation.

“We hope that the decision will be made in the next several months,” Stacey Schmeidel, associate vice president for college communications at Davidson College, told Security Director News. On August 1, a new college president will take over and Schmeidel expects there will be further discussion about how the college plans to move forward, depending on the outcome. The college has been playing the waiting game since the case was heard before the state Supreme Court on March 15, 2011.

The case arose after a Davidson police officer stopped a woman, Julie Anne Yencer, who was not a student of the college. She was arrested for driving while impaired and reckless driving on a street adjacent to campus on Jan. 5, 2006. According to the case, State of North Carolina v. Julie Anne Yencer, on June 21, 2006, she initially pled guilty, but then on June 27, 2006, submitted a written notice of appeal to the superior court.

On Aug. 17, 2010, a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that sworn police officers employed by Davidson College do not have arresting or enforcement powers because the college has a religious affiliation. The court ruling found that “a state may not delegate an important discretionary governmental power to a religious institution or share such power with a religious institution.”

Davidson College is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.

If the state Supreme Court rules the decision stands, there could be serious implications for Davidson College and other college and universities in the state. A brief of amicus curiae submitted by the trustees of Davidson College to the court states that the outcome of this case “could have a profound effect on Davidson's campus security, jeopardize Davidson's public safety operations, and provoke additional litigation.”

Similarly, the North Carolina Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators submitted a brief saying this decision could “undermine the ability of North Carolina colleges and universities that have any relationship with a religious denomination to provide for the safety and security of their students, faculty, and visitors through campus police.”

Campus police agencies are an important tool that has been effective in securing campuses, wrote the association. If the Supreme Court confirms the lower court’s ruling that police agencies associated with religious institutions do not have full police powers, NCACLEA wrote that “some or all of those schools might be compelled to rely entirely upon local county or municipal law enforcement for ensuring public safety and security on their campuses.”