Crimes on College Campuses

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 What Are Some Types of Crimes on College Campuses?

Crimes on college campuses can be disruptive to the educational environment for students. Unfortunately, a number of crimes occur on college campuses. Some of them include:

  • Crimes Involving Alcohol: For example, underage drinking is a crime involving alcohol;
  • Theft: Laptops and smartphones are especially targeted by thieves;
  • Assault:
  • Sex Crimes: Rape or stalking are examples of sex crimes;
  • Hazing: Crimes such as assault and battery may occur during hazing rituals;
  • Drug crimes: Drug crimes include possession, use, or distribution of controlled substances.

In many cases, crimes on college campuses are not committed by students or between students. Rather many instances of criminal conduct involve a visitor to the school or someone trespassing on property, such as an intruder in the dorms. So, the issue of campus security often plays a role in college campus crime.

The National Center for Education Statistics states that the in 2018 12,300 forcible sex offenses, 9,600 burglaries, and 3,100 motor vehicle thefts, as well as aggravated assaults and robberies were reported on college campuses. These crimes were the most common.

It is important to keep in mind that a crime would be reported to the administration of a college or university where the crime was committed. So, in addition to a criminal charge, a perpetrator who is a faculty member, staff member or student at the college or university would probably face college or university disciplinary measures. These disciplinary measures would be completely separate from the criminal legal process.

For example, at Penn State and other colleges in Pennsylvania, a student charged with a criminal offense is required to meet with the director of the Office of Student Conduct, which, in the case of Penn State, is part of the Penn State Student Affairs department. This is the office that is responsible for administering Penn State’s conduct discipline process, which has its own procedures and penalties for misconduct. It is entirely separate from Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system.

So a student charged with a criminal offense may well find that they must deal with two separate systems, their college or university disciplinary system and the criminal justice system of the state in which the college or university is located. In addition, it is important to note that conduct that might not be criminal under local, state or federal criminal law could violate college and university policies and procedures. A faculty member, student or staff member might be subject to university discipline for violating policies and procedures in ways that do not constitute crimes.

For example, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville prohibits smoking in buildings and on all university property, including outdoor spaces. This prohibition covers smoking in private vehicles when parked or driven on university property. A student of the university may be subject to discipline for smoking in their car parked on university property, something that is not a criminal offense in Tennessee.

Who Can Be Charged for College Campus Crimes?

Depending on the circumstances, a number of different people may be held accountable for crimes on college campuses. These may include:

  • Students;
  • Visitors to the college or university campus;
  • University faculty and staff;
  • Anyone else who commits a crime on a university or college campus.

In some states, campus police cannot arrest and charge a person who is not on campus property or has not committed an offense on campus property, but this is the only limitation on their law enforcement authority. Otherwise, anyone who commits a crime on a college or university campus can be arrested and charged for the crime.

Is an Arrest by Campus Police the Same as an Off-campus Arrest?

Many students believe that an arrest by campus police will only result in a warning or a fine, but this is not true. The exact authority of campus police forces is defined in the law of the state in which the particular force operates. Generally, a particular campus police force is likely to have the same powers as state and local police authorities. It is not safe to assume that a campus police force has any less authority than any other law enforcement agency.

For example in Massachusetts, the members of college and university police forces are appointed as special state officers under a state statute. It grants them the same authority to make arrests in the same manner as regular police officers for any criminal offense committed within their jurisdiction.

Courts have consistently held that campus police officers are constrained by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and students have full rights of privacy in their dorm rooms, just as the average citizen has in their home. This only makes campus police officers subject to the same constitutional constraints as law enforcement in any other jurisdiction. They must respect the same rules regarding searches of dorm rooms that constrain other police officers in their activities.

In Missouri, Jefferson College describes the role of its campus police force as providing protection and services to the main campus of Jefferson College through pedestrian and vehicular patrol 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Jefferson College police department is responsible for enforcing federal, state, and local laws as well as enforcing all policies and procedures set by the College’s Board of Trustees. The College Police Department notes that it works cooperatively with the county sheriff’s office, as well as the police departments of nearby towns.

Washington University of Saint Louis has a police department (WUPD) that is commissioned through the St. Louis County Police Department. The officers meet state requirements for police certification. Its officers are armed and possess the authority to make arrests and investigate both criminal and non-criminal incidents.

In fact, in May of 2015, the University of Rhode Island announced that its campus police force would start to carry guns, and it was reportedly the last public university in the U.S. to arm its officers.

The officers of the WUPD receive on-going training and work to meet all the standards of professional policing. WUPD is a member of police associations at the county, state and national levels. It maintains a liaison with these agencies who works to maintain regular contact and coordinate efforts to maintain safety and security in the area.

Reportedly, the police department of the University of Texas is equipped with an emergency rescue armored personnel vehicle.

It is also true that the authority of campus police may be limited to the campus they are assigned to protect. This means that they cannot arrest people who are not on the property of the campus over which they have jurisdiction, and they cannot arrest people for crimes that were not committed on the campus over which they have jurisdiction.

But many campus police forces are actually branches of local police forces. This means that they may have the same powers to make arrests, secure search warrants, and perform all of the other tasks that any other law enforcement agency is authorized to perform. .

Even if the campus police do not have the same powers as regular police forces, criminal charges are usually filed by the police authority of the municipality in which the college is located. The result can be a criminal charge that is no different from any criminal charge against any alleged criminal perpetrator. And, from time to time, campus police may join efforts with local police for larger projects, such as crowd control in a campus or city event.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The crimes charged by campus police on college campuses are generally the same as crimes charged elsewhere. People charged with a crime committed on a college campus will still face the penalties prescribed by the local, state or federal law, such as fines or jail sentences. This is the case even if the person is a member of the faculty or a student. In addition, the perpetrator of a crime on campus may face a college disciplinary process.

If you have been charged with a crime that was committed on a college or university campus, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. A lawyer will be able to analyze your case, and advise you on how best to proceed. Your lawyer can defend you in court or at university proceedings, if this becomes necessary.


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