The Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (VACLEA) is the association for police and public safety agencies primarily responsible for the safety and security of institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth. As such, VACLEA is the leading advocate and authority for college and university police and public safety agencies in Virginia.
To support and advance police and public safety agencies that are primarily responsible for the safety and security of Virginia institutions of higher education through professional training, education, legislative initiatives, advocacy, supporting best practices, honoring outstanding service, securing resources, and performing other roles based on emerging needs.
Our Constituent Police and Public Safety Agencies
Public and private colleges and universities have the legal authority (§23.1-809) (§23.1-810) (§ 23.1-818) to determine what type of safety and security agency they want to utilize for their campuses; thus, different forms of agencies exist across institutions. While all institutions focus on systematically professionalizing their public safety departments the type of agency and their personnel may differ: some schools adopt a pure police model employing only certified police officers; others adopt a pure security model, employing only non-certified security personnel; and many others adopt a police and public safety model, employing both certified police and non-certified security personnel, as well.1
Campus certified law enforcement officers have the same police training and authority as their local, county, and state counterparts. This includes the State mandated basic academy and in-service law enforcement training, arrest powers, and the authority to carry firearms while on and off-duty. Campus security officers often exceed the qualifications of security officers employed elsewhere in public or private sector. To be certified as a campus security officer, individuals must meet State mandated employment qualifications, as well as, specific entry-level training (§ 9.1-102). While security officers do not have the same powers as police officers, they are still expected to perform their duties in a professional and effective manner to facilitate the well-being of individuals and protection of property.
It is important to note that both law enforcement and security careers are considered professional occupational tracks that meet specified State and industry standards. They both have legitimate roles and duties to perform essential to the safe and orderly operation of their respective campuses on a daily basis.
VACLEA is fully committed to supporting and serving all of these constituent campus agencies and their respective personnel. Otherwise, people and property across the Commonwealth are at a greater risk, and in the long-term, the overall viability of Virginia educational institutions can be negatively impacted.
Understanding College and University Police and Public Safety Agency Responsibilities and Community Expectations
College and university police and public safety agencies have some very unique challenges and expanded tools that separate them from their municipal, county or state colleagues. This is based on their overall mission, nature of population and property, legislative mandates, and effective alternatives to arrest.
Mission – While all police are generally charged with the safety and security of their community, university police also have the specific mission of doing so within the context of an institution of higher education. The overarching emphasis is on supporting the mission of the greater university by ensuring community members and visitors are safe and that personal property, as well as, institutional resources remain secure and available. To be successful, a university police or public safety agency must be an integral part of the campus community and consistently deliver an extremely wide-range of services.
The range of services may include duties such as: presenting student orientation and campus-wide educational sessions, responding to calls for security and police response, conducting investigations, facilitating/monitoring building access control, dealing with concerned parents or members of the public, working with official and unofficial student organizations, collaborating with other university Departments to assist with missing students or students in mental health crisis, developing individual “personal” safety plans for community members that are fearful for any reason, assessing unusual behavior for potential threats to campus, referring student misconduct cases through the Student Code of Conduct process, participating on university committees (Education and Violence Prevention, Risk Management, Event Management, etc.), immediately facilitating/providing multi-faceted resources for victims of sexual assault, facilitating/monitoring surveillance cameras and other security equipment campus-wide, facilitating safety “apps” for community members, participating in student/community events that address significant social justice topics, staffing spontaneous and planned protests, sending mass notification crime or emergency messaging as required by the Clery Act, etc.
Nature Of Population And Property – A campus population is transient in nature, with approximately 25% or more (4 year or 2 year institution) of the student population typically changing every year. Most universities still serve a student population with a high concentration of students between 18-25 years old; a very high-risk age group to serve. Campus officers patrol property that is all owned, leased, or controlled by their institution, as opposed to municipal, county or State police that patrol areas where property is owned by residents, businesses, etc. On a campus responsibility for Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, as well as, all physical security, security technology, and target hardening for all property falls directly to the campus agency.
Legislative Mandates – There are significant legislative mandates that regulate university police and public safety agencies in some manner. A number of mandates require campus police and/or security to perform duties not required of other types of agencies. For example, the federal Jeanne Clery Act requires all universities to report specific annual crime statistics based on crime definitions provided by the U.S. Department of Education. This Act also requires universities to issue mass timely warnings for specified criminal activity, mass emergency notifications for incidents posing danger, and an annual handbook containing extensive crime, safety, security, and fire information. As a State example, the Commonwealth of Virginia mandates each institution of higher education to establish and maintain a Threat Assessment Team. The police or public safety agency is required to participate on the team. In many cases the agency has a command representative and an investigator assigned to this responsibility.
Effective Alternatives To Arrest – Colleges and universities have multiple mechanisms to process and remedy on-campus misconduct/crime. Given a particular situation, an arrest may be appropriate or there may be another mechanism available to quickly stop and prevent the behavior from re-occurring. Police and public safety agencies work closely with other university officials to ensure proper use of all the tools in the overall enforcement tool box. Arrest for criminal behavior is only one tool. And it is certainly the preferred tool for any serious or personal injury crime where the victim wants to move forward with the criminal process and enough evidence exists to meet the rigorous burden of proof required for conviction in a criminal case. Other tools that can also serve as effective alternatives to arrest in other types of situations are described below.
Police or public safety officers (or any other member of a campus community) can refer students to the Dean of Students Office for Code of Conduct violations. This process is very timely and can result in administrative sanctions including mandated educational programming, community service, suspension, or termination from school. Additionally, the institution can implement and enforce college restrictions, such as, a no contact order between students. This administrative process for determining whether the accused suspect is responsible for the misconduct uses a lower standard for “burden of proof” than the standard required for a criminal conviction. This type of referral is often used instead of a criminal charge for first time offenders of minor crimes, such as underage possession of alcohol. It may also be used as the sole remedy for crimes where the victim does not want to pursue a criminal case and no other evidence exists.
Any member of a campus community can report certain types of misconduct/crime to the Title IX Coordinator. Institutions are federally mandated to have a Title IX Coordinator. Victims of harassment, domestic or sexual assault may decide to report the incident to the Title IX Coordinator; and may or may not decide to report it as a crime to the police or public safety agency. The Title IX Coordinator investigates the case, and for student violations can recommend sanctions through the Dean of Students Office, or for faculty/staff can recommend personnel action through the Provost/Human Resource Office. This is often the sole remedy for these types of crimes as victims (or survivors) rarely want to pursue a criminal case and no other evidence exists. As an administrative process, again the “burden of proof” standard is lower than required for a criminal conviction.
Any member of a campus community can report certain types of faculty/staff misconduct/crime directly to the Deans/Provost/Human Resource Office. The report will be investigated administratively and appropriate personnel action taken. If the investigation shows the university is the victim of a crime, senior administration may or may not refer the case for criminal prosecution. If it is a property crime, guaranteed restitution is often a preferred remedy.
Police or public safety officers usually have delegated authority to ban someone from part or all of campus. This is commonly referred to as “issuing a no trespass.” This tool may be used in lieu of arrest for an individual involved in something minor. The violator will be given notice of “no trespass” on campus grounds for a specified period of time. This typically prevents any re-occurrence of the unwanted behavior. If the person returns to campus while banned, then they are subject to a full custody arrest for trespass in addition to any other charge for new criminal behavior.
1 Security officers may also be contracted, if they meet the required criteria.