Civil Liberties

Campus Cops Are All About the Military Swag, Too (Cameras? Not So Much)


Wikimedia Commons

Local police departments aren't the only authorities arming themselves to the teeth with ex-military stuff. As Politico notes, campus cops at universities all over the country are also receiving re-purposed combat equipment:

Florida International University campus police have military-grade rifles. Ohio State has a Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle. And Florida State has a brand new Army Humvee. These Pentagon hand-me-downs are just a few examples of the militarization of local police that has extended to college campuses — raising fresh questions about exactly why police departments would need such defense-grade hardware. …

Most items distributed through the Defense Logistics Agency's Law Enforcement Support Office go to state and municipal government agencies. But a recent Freedom of Information Act request by MuckRock revealed that more than 100 college campuses with sworn-in police departments also participate in the 1033 program as of last December.

The institutions include community colleges, large research universities, liberal arts campuses and entire college systems.

It's not all armored cars and crowd-suppression gas—some colleges have received furniture and office supplies from the federal program that distributes the goods. Even so, why does OSU need an armored car? OSU football fans are a crazy bunch, but still.

The average college town probably doesn't have quite as fraught a relationship between cop and citizen as does Ferguson, Missouri. But students also endure unjust police encounters all the time. The kind of extreme incident for which campus cops claim they need military equipment—an active shooter, for instance—is extremely rare. Over-aggressive campus policing, on the other hand, is not.

If colleges really wanted to protect students lives and their rights, they would require their police forces to wear cameras. But as University of Florida Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw told Politico, that doesn't seem to be a top priority:

But those questions are more about creating a welcoming environment for students and how campus cops can use existing technology in the best way possible — for example, should police have on-person cameras that record confrontations with students?

"I'm not hearing a lot of the anti-police buzz," Shaw said. "We're really focusing more on the educational side of things."