On Campus Police

Sorry No Missing Person Monday post for this week.  Instead I wanted to discuss this story...
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One of the more difficult jobs in law enforcement is that of the college/university police officer.

Since each college/university and state has different requirements, campus law enforcement varies--some have armed state certified police officers, while others are unarmed security guards. 

For the certified police officers on campus, often, employees and students of the institution view them as a "rent-a-cops" and offer little respect. 

The general public's opinion of these men and women is likely to be worse. 

But, the most difficult aspect for certified college/university police departments is this--higher education administrators rarely want their officers to truly be police officers:

It was a Saturday on campus when David Sedmak, a Rice University police officer, heard "Officer down, officer down!" on his scanner: Two members of the Houston Police Department had been shot downtown. Sedmak rushed to the scene to help his fellow officers.

But Rice didn't see Sedmak as a hero. Instead, the university fired him, citing "dereliction of duty."

The university said in a statement that its officers often assist other law enforcement agencies when the need arises. But Sedmak erred, it said, by not informing the university police dispatcher about where he was.

"Sedmak left his post when only two other officers were on duty and failed to notify his supervisor of his whereabouts for nearly an hour, which could have endangered the safety of our students and campus," according to the university.

The May 7 episode that led to Sedmak's controversial dismissal began when Jesse Brown, 20, was seen with a pistol as he tried to buy a ticket at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Houston. When HPD officer Fernando Meza, working an off-duty job at the station, confronted Brown about the weapon, Brown shot him in the hand. Soon after, Brown shot another officer, Timothy Moore, in the leg.

Sedmak said he arrived on the scene and prepared for a confrontation with the armed suspect. Several HPD officers came in after him and took cover behind his patrol car. Brown, who had been accused of shooting a 3-year-old girl, her grandfather and another man on Halloween in San Francisco, then shot and killed himself as Sedmak and the other cops closed in...

A few points:

--University administrators have to understand that an "officer down" call universally translates to units respond immediately and help--especially when the officer was a few miles away from the shooting in a city where the mayor stated that due to personnel shortages with the city police, increased cooperation is necessary. If what is stated is true, punish the officer for leaving his jurisdiction without permission, but don't fire him.

--From what was released, it is unclear if Officer Sedmak failed to "properly" notify personnel in his agency about his actions or if he did not notify anyone at all--there is a difference.  

--Officer Sedmak's trip to the shooting scene was between two and four miles. If he was involved in engaging an active shooter (as implied by this article), it is understandable that he would not have an immediate opportunity to converse with his supervisor back at the university.

--The university's statement implying that Officer Sedmak left the institution and his fellow officers unprotected is misleading. Rice University, like an other institution has mutual aid agreements--any emergency call for police service at the school would be covered by other police if no one at Rice was available. Further, if officials at Rice University are concerned that the temporary loss of one officer puts the campus at risk, then perhaps a staff of two officers and a supervisor is inadequate.

--In my opinion, too many stories in the news bolster the thought that university administrators want to advertise a safe campus with professional police, but they would rather officers not be involved in actual law enforcement--just keep those guns in the holsters at all possible costs.

Two issues appear to be the drivers for Sedmak's dismissal: 1) Sedmak's superiors were angry at him for not being notified that he was assisting the wounded Houston Police Department officers; and, 2) Sedmak had become involved in a policing activity, off-campus, that was not viewed as essential to the University's mission.

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In sum, university officials need to understand what having a police department entails.

Their police officers are armed professionals and certified by the State of Texas.  If assistance is needed nearby due to an armed confrontation, they have to allow their personnel to be emergency responders--immediate notification of a supervisor may not be feasible.

Because next time, it may be an active shooter at Rice University--a call that these same officials will want no hesitation or delays in the response by outside agencies.

13 comments:

Suz said...

Wow. Unbelievable. OK, maybe not, as Academia seems to think it exists in a parallel dimension. However, they do dislike bad press, so maybe a few heads will roll. Thanks for the post.

Ally Lifewithally said...

Thanks for a really interesting read ~ Allyx

Brian Miller said...

i hear you man and this is frustrating...agree on your points...suz makes a great point about uni being a parallel universe...the stand offishness bleeds into community relations issues as well...

Lydia K said...

Interesting read, and I didn't really know this was an issue. Thanks for enlightening me. I feel bad for that officer who was just trying to help...

Bob G. said...

SLamdunk:
Never saw this story, but after your presentation AND commentary...brother, you hit this one OUT of the park!

Great call on every single point.

And I also think SUZ is onto something about the parallel dimension thing on campuses across the nation.

Guess it STILL goes to show that:
No GOOD deed EVER goes unpunished.

Excellent post and comments.

Stay safe out there.

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, tough situation. I haven't read about the incident before today but I hope that Sedmak can get some compensation or something. We should treat all law enforcement officers with respect. Man, we should treat everyone with respect.

Audrey Allure said...

Wow, that is just unbelievable.

Mommy Lisa said...

I hope HPD hires him...as the University Liaison Officer.

Sister Copinherhair said...

I think you should write to the university...

J. J. in Phila said...

From my government days, one of the things I've said about a safety crisis is "I don't expect you to call me first. I expect you to handle the crisis first and only call me if you need my immediate assistance."

If he did call in route, and indicating that he was responding, that should be the end of it.

BobG is right; you hit this one out of the ballpark.

Momma Fargo said...

Ugh. Frustrating case. Our university police are deemed by Wyoming state statute to have the most arrest powers in the state, yet they are also viewed poorly by citizens. They often go through their career very unappreciated, but more so than a city officer.

carma said...

Don't get me started on this topic. There is a big lawsuit that I believe is going to the state supreme court about the college police (literally down the block from where I live) doing radar and pulling people over as if they are regular police officers. Kicker is that it is a "religious institution" and someone is contesting based on separation of state and religion. I'm hoping she is victorious. Just about everyone in the town has been pulled over at least once, my husband right in front of our house :D The police are making big bucks off the citizens. I could go on....

Maxi said...

Officials at the university need to use some plain ol' common sense.

"Officer down" is like an S.O.S. or Mayday - in other words - respond immediately.

There is no time to notify anyone.