Jul 17, 2019
The State of Arming at Private Universities and Colleges
By Sue Riseling
A project of IACLEA’s Global Center for Campus Public Safety
Times have changed, and so, too, have the number of private college and university public safety departments whose personnel are armed.
Private college and university police have safeguarded their campuses for decades. The death of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Police Officer Sean Collier on April 18, 2013, was a watershed moment for how police officers who serve private campuses were viewed. The Boston Marathon bombers, fleeing a multi-agency manhunt, murdered Officer Collier, 26, who while supporting the effort to apprehend the criminals was on duty, in full uniform, armed, and sworn to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Because he worked for a private college, his family was not eligible to receive the federal death benefits that are provided to municipal law enforcement and fallen officers serving public institutions of higher education. This painful tragedy and others like it renewed IACLEA’s efforts to enact a federal law to extend death benefits to all fallen university police officers, not just those at public institutions.
In working to advance the Officer Sean Collier Campus Police Recognition Act (Sean Collier Act) HR 816, IACLEA representatives must counter the misconception that police at private institutions are not armed. That assumption also promotes the misunderstanding that they do not have the same responsibilities as armed officers.
IACLEA decided to ascertain whether or not this criticism is true today. The result of our survey research shows that private university and college sworn police are armed in overwhelming numbers. The agencies at private institutions that are sworn but not armed are few. There are a considerable number of nonsworn, unarmed personnel, but they would not be covered under the Collier bill, and were not examined in this research from IACLEA’s Global Center for Campus Public Safety (GCCPS).
After surveying all 50 states and the District of Columbia, IACLEA’s GCCPS found 199 private colleges and universities with sworn personnel. Among those 199, 95% of the private, sworn college and university police and public safety departments personnel are armed. This leaves only 4.5% unarmed, with several actively considering arming.
We also found 24 states (48%) have no private colleges or universities that have sworn authority. The Collier bill having no direct impact in nearly half the states potentially explains why it has failed to gain enough momentum to pass the House and Senate; 48 Senators and even more Representatives do not have a constituent directly touched by the problem.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where Officer Collier was murdered, has the largest number of private, sworn, and unarmed campus agencies with five. The District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania each have one unarmed, private sworn agency.
The Global Center for Campus Public Safety data shows that the overwhelming majority of private college and university police are armed and have accepted the same requirements, expectations, and responsibilities of any police officer on a state campus or in a city or town. As such they should receive the federal death benefits and all the other benefits their public counterparts receive.
If you would like to assist in IACLEA’s outreach to lawmakers to advance the Sean Collier Act, please contact IACLEA Director of Government and External Relations Altmann R. Pannell, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-618-8118.