N.C. school creates sworn police force
RALEIGH, N.C.—Wake Tech Community College, whose main campus is in this city, is creating a fully sworn campus police department to deter crime and provide rapid response in emergencies.
The addition of sworn police officers is a "proactive" move, spurred on in part by incidents of violence on other college campuses around the country, Gerald Mitchell, the school's executive vice president, told Security Director News. Avoiding the that-would-never-happen-to-us response to those headline-grabbing incidents, Mitchell sees a fully sworn police department as a way to mitigate risk. "You're looking around at what's happening in our nation and you're saying 'Am I going to be next?'" Mitchell said. "We know that our schools mirror society and things do happen out there and we have police departments and they're prepared to respond to incidents that occur, so we're thinking along those lines."
The school has 70,000 students spread over five campuses and two training centers (it also has purchased land for a sixth campus). The school currently employs two fully sworn school resource officers from local police departments, as well as contracted security guards. A news release from the college notes that 14 other North Carolina community colleges have similar campus police forces, as do all the universities in the UNC system.
The arrest powers that come with a sworn police department, and the deterrence factor they bring, was part of the school's decision to create the police department. "My concern is the safety and security of our students, staff, faculty and visitors. It's been a safe campus and I want it to continue that way," Mitchell said. "Sometimes you have to react to certain things, but I'd like to avoid that. I'd like for bad guys to think 'I don't want to go on Wake Tech's campus to sell drugs or harm some students because they have sworn officers there and they'll lock us up.'"
Paul Verrecchia, chief of police at the College of Charleston and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, has spoken in the past with Security Director News on the difference between schools relying on municipal police departments and having their own sworn officers. "Campus policing is a unique specialty within the law enforcement profession and having police officers who are trained in how to deal with students, trained in the culture of higher education, trained in the culture of that particular institution, is a lot more advantageous in my mind than having and relying on municipal officers who don’t have that kind of training and understanding," said Verrecchia, who spent 22 years as a municipal police officer before entering campus law enforcement 14 years ago.
The Wake Tech campus police department will begin with 14 sworn police officers, but Mitchell expects that number to grow. The police department will become active on July 1, according to the news release. The school is also currently hiring a director of security. It's requiring eligible applicants to be a sworn law enforcement officer with the expectation that that person would also become chief of the campus police department.
According to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, 93 percent of public universities had a sworn police force during the 2004-05 school year (the most recent data available), while only 42 percent of private four-year schools were served by sworn police officers.