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Dec 17, 2013 04:02 PM EST

Campus Police Gaining More Power and Wider Jurisdiction, But Non-School Residents are Worried


Already considered an actual police force on the campuses they patrol, college departments are becoming more and more empowered, a trend that does not seem to be slowing.

According to the Associated Press, many colleges and universities say strict campus jurisdictions are becoming increasingly arbitrary. This has lead to several campus police departments expanding their limits to neighboring towns, including areas with off-campus housing buildings.

"It used to be we were responsible for the campus. Now there's an expectation, I think, especially with parents, but to a large extent among students, that we're also responsible for these areas off campus," said Jeff Corcoran, interim chief of the University of Cincinnati police force. "We're getting pushed to ignore those imaginary lines on the map and be more proactive in that area."

While that may be encouraging for campus residents and school officials, city residents in Washington D.C. expressed some concern, stating college police sometimes do not have the same level of training. The policemen hired by private colleges have truncated training sessions compared to city officers. The school's law enforcement department would also not be held to the same transparency standard as public institutions and government agencies, raising accountability concerns.

"If one of their policemen acted inappropriately, there would be hardly any recourse. We'd have no information, no follow-up," said Ken Durham, a longtime resident of a neighborhood surrounding George Washington University called Foggy Bottom.

Marina Streznewski is the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, a coalition, which Durham is a part of, set to discuss and analyze the expansion of campus police jurisdiction.

"Expanding the police powers of a university police force without some kind of clear and transparent mechanism is a really bad idea," said Streznewski.

Major campus crime events such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, the several reports of mishandled sexual assault complaints and other recent issues have brought this issue to national attention. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to release transparency reports of crimes that occur on their campus and violating it is a federal offense.

However, a private university such as GWU does not have to make incident reports public, although they may be accessed through court subpoenas.

"There are many people in the neighborhood who will make an assumption that a house full of young people of a such a certain age are students and they may not be," said Streznewski. "It gets really sticky when some of the people in the house are students and some aren't."

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