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Newsletter > June 2015 > "Private College Police are Frequently Public Law Enforcement Officers"
Private College Police are Frequently Public Law Enforcement Officers
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
Around the country many colleges and Universities have their own on-campus police departments whose members are police officers, not simply security guards. Frequently, the officers in those departments have the same law enforcement authority as the local community police department, the county sheriff’s office or the state troopers. They provide security, investigate crimes ranging from simple misdemeanors to serious felonies such as rape and can make arrests for those violations. Sometimes, as in the case of Otterbein University, their authority to do so extends off campus.
In many ways the decision in Schiffbauer is not surprising. The Otterbein police officers were vested with the power of the state. So the rules that apply to the state and its local governments regarding public records could easily be seen as applying to the Otterbein police.
According to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ohio is not alone in providing greater transparency to private college police records. Texas just adopted a law with similar requirements. Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia have similar disclosure mandates and a pending ESPN lawsuit against Notre Dame could produce the same results in Indiana.1
While the Clery Act already required Otterbein to provide statistics regarding on-campus and near campus crime, the ability to obtain the records of police investigations provides for much greater detail of those crimes to be publically available.
As such requirements grow around the country, there will undoubtedly be some consternation over the balancing with the privacy requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However, it certainly appears that there will be an increased demand for the public record requirements that have long applied to public institutions on private campuses as well.
1 Private College’s Police Departments Prepare for More Public Disclosure, by Colleen Murphy, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 9, 2015.