Integrated Security Services, Inc., New York

Why Campus Security Should be Part of Your College Search Part II

27 Apr

In part one of relevant safety and security questions that parents and prospective students should consider when selecting a college, we discussed residential housing security and safety protocols, student access to healthcare services and mental health support, and general campus and community security operations and performance. In part two, we will go over the importance of a modern community policing model on campus, the importance of a well-funded and well trained security department, and the need for in-depth background checks for all employees.

Community Policing

Today, many law enforcement agencies now find themselves challenged by an inability to manage relationships with the new youth culture. It is very important to find out if the campus public safety personnel at the schools you’re touring practice modern-day community policing, or at least in part embrace this model. There are many signs that a campus security force is stuck in a traditional, reactive model as opposed to being more preventative and proactive. The first sign is how well funded, equipped and staffed the department is as well as the degree of cultural diversity of the personnel. Regular in-service training, newsletters and campus educational workshops are clear indicators that a campus’ security team is both progressive and willing to share important security and safety concerns occurring on and off campus.

At the core, a well-rooted community policing workforce is one that is strongly and openly supported by the college’s senior executives. But don’t just take the university’s word for it. It is also wise to contact the local law enforcement agency to get their perspective on the school’s public safety record. A lack of transparency related to a school’s record and poor executive support can indicate a problem, making it wise to consider other school options.

As previously mentioned, what defines a campus police professional is whether or not they subscribe to a code of ethics and/or a code of professional conduct. Do they meet the minimum state standards in terms of hiring qualifications and training and what additional certifications do they possess? Equally important is whether they commit themselves to, and understand the importance of, partnerships with all of the constituents within the campus community. By speaking with past and present students about their experience with campus security officers, you will immediately know whether or not a cultural bias exists and how that impacts their perspective on how safe and secure they feel on campus. Once again, too many negative answers in response to these sorts of questions make the state of campus safety and security at the institution very suspect.

Employee Background Checks

One of the most overlooked considerations by most of us is how, or even if, the university vets staff, faculty, and outside vendors they hire. In this day and age, anybody with extended access to a college campus should receive a background check prior to engaging their services. This includes new CEOs, administrators, faculty, staff, deans, cooks, vendors, security, part-time workers, and contractors, including student workers. There are varying degrees of qualified background checks, and the most valid vetting is done by hand, not machines. Many background investigations are conducted through online service providers, and colleges accept these results at face value with none of the data reported being reviewed, validated or challenged by a trained investigator. In fact, very few schools actually contact past job references or look any closer at court records or other important civil filings. From my perspective, there should be no exceptions and colleges that cut corners in this department should be dropped from your list. One exception that slips through the cracks can bring tragedy to many people. Is the risk worth it? Good colleges and universities clearly understand the new obligations in this regard and require that everybody undergo a “real” background check.  

Knowledge is power, and some campus security operations perform smarter because they are connected to other professional safety and security organizations. Networking brings knowledge and is critically important to the well-being and day-to-day quality of life of people on campus. Find out how engaged the campus security operations actually is and whether they network with other local police agencies, local and state campus safety associations, regional security groups and national campus protection associations. You can check to see if the school you’re considering belongs to the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). If not, why not?

Security Funding

Lastly, check to see how well the campus security force is funded. A workforce or department that is under budgeted typically results in high turnover and sub-par performance from its workers. The national average is about 2.5 – 3% of a school’s budget going toward managing its security force. Funds should be allocated for salary and benefits, training, recertification, uniforms and equipment. Additionally, campus security should be more than just another line item in the budget. Dedicated office space, incident reporting software, advanced CCTV technology and a robust emergency notification system are just some of the hallmarks of a well-funded campus security department.

Inadequate funding leads to ineffective and inefficient protective services. If you determine that the funding is inadequate, find another school that takes pride in their campus security and one where safety and security is a real priority!

I am hopeful with all that you have read and learned in these last two messages that you have the information and confidence to attack these critical questions. To assist you with your college vetting process, I have created a handy checklist that encompasses most of the issues I’ve raised. Click here to download a pdf version of this checklist.