Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Today’s Well-Dressed Campus Police Officer

campus policeCollege Planning & Management recently spoke with Bill Lafferty, assistant vice president for College Life at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, and president of Northeast Colleges and Universities Security Association (NECUSA, www.necusa.org) about this. NECUSA promotes “public safety in higher education through professional development, networking, and information sharing through formal and informal opportunities.” Here’s his wisdom, gleaned from 30 years of private and campus law enforcement experience.

CPM: In the last 20 years, how has technology changed to augment campus police officers’ jobs and promote student safety?

Lafferty: There have been both significant enhancements and significant challenges as a result of technology changes.

In terms of enhancements, officers are more mobile and capable of interacting with campus constituents in a way they haven’t previously been able. They’re also able to do reports in the field, which significantly increases efficiency and allows institutions to create better processes that provide timelier access to crime and safety information that can enhance overall campus community safety. In terms of Clery Act compliance, technology enhancements have also enabled greater access to information among consumers beyond the campus boundaries. Anecdotally, it seems more prospective parents are accessing this information more frequently.

In terms of challenges, social media creates complications for the work officers do in the field. For example, which clip of a video is used in social media can result in a critical perspective of a situation. Another example is that students know about incidents more quickly and often rely on unconfirmed social media postings to get their information. Institutions must then play catch-up in order to provide accurate details that are often delayed because of necessary confirmation. There is a slight delay from a confirmation perspective because we want to make sure it has happened and that they understand our response to it.

Enhancements and challenges created by technology can also be looked at from an investigative perspective. From an enhancement perspective, access control, cell phone tracking through wireless technology, and covert cameras help in the investigative process and allow officers to close out cases more efficiently and provide the necessary reports that students expect. From a challenge perspective, social media is problematic in terms of cyberstalking and bullying. It’s easier to be both cyberstalked and bullied. And the posts on some apps disappear within a matter of minutes, making it difficult to track from an investigative perspective, thereby making it easier for criminals to commit crime.

CPM: What technologies are campus police officers carrying that are vital to day-today operations?

Lafferty: Three come to mind. The first is mobile devices, such as smartphones and iPads, which allow officers to do more work in the field, such as verifications. When you think about crime scene investigation, we used to lug around cameras; now we can use small handheld tools. The second is body cameras. This technology continues to evolve, and it has been beneficial for police officers, notably for responding to community complaints after the fact. The third is taser and other nonlethal weapon enhancements, which allow officers to use force that is less than deadly in many circumstances, and that’s important.

The biggest impact that technology has made is that officers are more self-sufficient, portable, and can more easily personally interact with communities. From a community policing perspective, that’s important. It can be challenging to build relationships, and technology has made that easier and has also made it easier to communicate with students. We’re finding new ways to reach out to our students. Students are paying attention to newer technologies to gain information related to campus events and social outlets. Where we’ve struggled a bit is ensuring we’re hiring officers who are technologically savvy so they understand how to use mobile devices and use them to connect with students.

CPM: With what technologies are campus patrol cars outfitted that are vital to day-today operations?

Lafferty: Patrol cars used to be outfitted with what were called mobile digital terminals, which were large and heavy. Some vehicles are still equipped with them. But now cars are outfitted with smaller, lighter computers. I’m thinking of durable Surface Pros and iPads, which sit in the cars, and officers are able to easily type on them and complete reports in the field. A second technology used in cars are mini iPads, which are a bit larger than the new iPhones, which have become bigger. Parking enforcement staff find them easy to carry for issuing citations in that they can look up plates without having to call dispatch to do it for them, and they’re able to print tickets in the field. Through a computer-generated system the software connects to our billing process, so students get citations via email and the information is sent directly to the billing office. A third technology found in campus patrol cars is cameras, which help support body camera technology.

CPM: What, if any, technologies are used for specific situations?

Lafferty: We use some of the same technologies, such as camera technology, regardless of the situation. For public events, we use newer, portable access-control devices to identify persons and their ages. We also use older, well-established technologies, such as wanding, when students are accessing an event.

Now there are mobile metal detectors that are lighter and easier to transport than those of previous generations. And state police and federal agencies are equipped with devices that detect biological and radiological particles that are much more advanced than what many institutions can afford to purchase, especially when they aren’t used every day. For campus communities hosting large-scale events that exceed their capabilities through staffing or technology, these organizations can assist with manpower and technology to help them achieve an event of that size.

CPM: What new technologies are on the horizon, and how will they enrich campus safety?

Lafferty: Body cameras will continue to advance. They clearly have an impact. From my perspective they are positive because they help support officers.

Also, access control systems, covert cameras and closed-circuit television (CCTV), continue to evolve. For example, CCTV now provides pan-tilt and higher resolution, allowing you to zoom in and pick up a license plate even at night. Similarly, infrared camera technology will continue to progress. As a result, I can only imagine that handheld devices will continue to mature, thereby complementing law enforcement response.

What’s most important to campus law enforcement is making sure recruitment and retention efforts continue to improve. An example is making sure salaries are competitive and that we’re recruiting officers who understand law enforcement techniques and have strong interpersonal skills in addition to policing skills.

A problem we face is the moving away from community policing techniques. This is partly a result of homeland security being delegated to law enforcement and the diminishing resources of many local law enforcement agencies. Officers need to be part of the communities they serve: They have to build trust and have proactive responses.

CPM: What advice regarding security technologies do you have for campus police officers and administrators?

Lafferty: Stay on top of it. Continue to explore what’s available. I do that by relying on younger officers who are more equipped at comprehending what technologies are out there. It’s important to be willing to continually evolve and, within budget constraints, get the most reliable technology that truly enhances campus law enforcement, officer safety, investigative abilities, and campus community safety. Who knows what new technologies will be available and beneficial to us in the future? The one thing that is sure is that, if we don’t stay on top of it, we’ll fall behind, and that will be detrimental to both students’ and officers’ safety.

Finally, don’t rely on technology to the point of forgetting how to get out and do old-school policing. Walking a beat and interacting with students and employees so they see us beyond the uniform serve to build trust. We can have all the technologies in the world but, if we don’t have trust, policing will continue to be challenging.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

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