The Crimes of the Campus Police

tags: sexual assault, Police, policing, colleges and universities, police abolition

Grace Watkins is a doctoral student in history at the University of Oxford.

Content Warning: This essay contains victim descriptions of sexual assault.


This summer, demonstrations swelled nationwide in response to the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade and many others. In response, students across the country have issued renewed demands for the abolition of their schools’ campus police forces as part of the effort to end to racist police violence. Such a moment necessitates a critical assessment of the bargain campuses have struck in the name of public safety. Too often ignored is the issue of campus-police forces’ long history of gender-based violence.

Sexual abuse can be found in any profession, but campus-police officers are uniquely situated: They have powers of detention and arrest, weapons, access to sensitive information and vulnerable people, and unusual job protection. Sexually abusive behavior by campus-police officers is typically reported individually and in isolation. When taken together, however, a pattern of harm emerges.

Many departments keep private records, so it can be difficult even to assess the full scope of the abuse. Despite this, there are still a shocking number of serious incidents in the public record. These cases are a direct result of the way that campus forces are structured.

While often thought of as rent-a-cops, many campus-police forces are actually full-service departments staffed by armed officers with powers of arrest both on and off campus. They are tasked with enforcing both school rules and state law, giving them significant power over students’ educational status and their permanent criminal record. And as they have professionalized over the past 60 years, many forces have come to report directly to the provost or university president, shielding them from student and faculty oversight.

It is incredibly difficult for students to report sexual violence committed by the people who are in charge of investigating such claims. A University of California at Santa Barbara student reported that the UCSB chief, James Brock, “grabbed her buttocks, slid his hand up her back and whispered in her ear” in August 2019. She resigned from her two on-campus jobs because they were in areas where Brock patrolled. “It’s still a constant source of fear for me,” she told the college newspaper, “seeing anyone else from UCPD because they all work under him and no one’s done anything about it.” Following a 255-day-long Title IX investigation, the university appears not to have sanctioned Brock. (According to a university spokesperson, “multiple investigations did not substantiate the allegations.”)

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

comments powered by Disqus