Why universities are turning to police to stop student protests – and why they’ll spiral uncontrolled

A two-week standoff between Columbia University administration and student protesters who advocated for the varsity to divest from firms that work in or support Israel culminated on April 30, 2024, One day after a bunch of scholars occupied a campus constructing, Hamilton Hall.

New York police arrested 109 protesters in Columbia and 173 other demonstrators City College, in uptown Manhattan, on April 30.

US politics and society editor Amy Lieberman spoke to The Conversation John J. Sloan IIIan authority on crime and policing on college campuses on the University of Alabama at Birmingham to raised understand different roles of police on college and college campuses.

A long line of police officers is seen climbing a black ladder and entering through the window of a building.  Other police officers stand on the ground and watch.
NYPD officers enter a Columbia University constructing where pro-Palestinian students barricaded themselves and arrange an encampment on April 30, 2024.
Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

How do universities differ of their cooperation with the police?

The first documented appearance of a sworn police officer Patrolling a university campus took place at Yale University in 1894.

In general, there are two approaches to policing on college or university campuses. University leaders initially asked local police to answer problems with anti-war demonstrators in the course of the Vietnam War and girls's rights protests within the Nineteen Sixties. If a lot of these encounters didn't go particularly well for anyone, campus police departments were created. Today, about two-thirds of universities and colleges – mainly public, corresponding to the University of California, Los Angeles – are have their very own campus police departments. There isn’t any difference between these campus law enforcement officials and their city counterparts by way of training or legal authority.

Another third of faculties and universities ultimately decided to rent their very own private security guards as a substitute – not law enforcement officials. Columbia and other Ivy League schools, in addition to other private institutions corresponding to Johns Hopkins University, are on this group. More and more of it Guards are armed.

One reason why different options were chosen was that The legal features of creating a police department at a personal school are more complex than those for establishing police departments at public universities. Aside from these logistics, there have been also image concerns about whether schools really wanted armed, uniformed law enforcement officials on their campuses.

Does this difference between police and personal security have any practical significance?

Colleges and universities which have their very own police departments often have a memorandum of understanding or mutual aid agreement that formalizes the connection between campus and city police. Both groups often train together to raised coordinate their response to, for instance, a mass shooting on campus. It is probably going that within the post-George Floyd era, mutual training included responding to campus protests.

At schools without campus police, security staff may lack comprehensive training in coping with demonstrations. This can result in a spiral in a short time. I could imagine this because the president of Colombia has recently called for the NYPD to be called in This is because of a mix of things – including that non-public security personnel may not have been fully trained and equipped to cope with the situation, in addition to the perceived urgency of the situation of scholars taking up a university constructing.

What else is notable about how different schools have responded to those protests?

The reactions of universities and the police to the protests look like very different. On the one hand is the situation in Columbia, where there have been literally NYPD officers Use of drones and other forms of military tactics to retake the constructing that the scholars first occupied on April 29.

At the University of Wisconsin, Madison – which has its own campus police force – it was also the university president decided to get the Madison police involved, perhaps for other reasons. This raises the query of how the university management desires to cope with these protests. Do you need to wait out the demonstrators? And in the event that they don't wish to wait, how quickly do they need the campus cleared?

I fully understand the necessity to ensure campus safety. But once you invite local or state law enforcement officials onto campus to answer protests, you might be handing them control of the situation and counting on them to have the training and preparation needed to intervene and never create further problems. What I even have seen up to now, not less than, is that those that have brought in outside law enforcement agencies are having to reply questions on the usage of force against protesters.

Two men in beige uniforms and helmets walk past a woman sitting on a barricade in front of a row of tents.
California Highway Patrol officers walk past a protester at a pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA on May 1, 2024 in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

What to know in regards to the police's tactical response to the protests?

New York Mayor Eric Adams spoke at a press conference and explained this NYPD procedure for entry and the evacuation of the Columbia campus jogged my memory of military tactics. He talked about how the NYPD flew drones to search out higher access points to the constructing and where students were staying. He discussed encrypting police radio frequencies so nobody could intercept them. The clothes the police wore and the photographs of so many officers marching down the road jogged my memory of a military.

Adams said nobody was injured at Columbia, but there are reports that three students were injured We are hurtand possibly some law enforcement officials. There were those too Reports from law enforcement officials was injured on the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In other places, like UCLA, There was also a heavy outside police presence on campus Reports from law enforcement officials Use of pepper spray and tear gas against demonstrators there and elsewhere Places like Florida. And on the University of Texas at Austin this week, officials called in state troopers to arrest protesters. Police use pepper spray Other aggressive tactics were also reported there.

Part of this phenomenon has to do with the extent to which police nationwide have gotten increasingly militarized as standard operating procedure. The Ohio State University bought a surplus military armored personnel carrier for instance for his police team in 2013.

In the post-9/11 era, law enforcement concerns were initially focused on terrorism; Now it's about mass shooters. In response, many police departments, including colleges and universities, are routinely deploying military-grade surveillance, communications, equipment, and training to the extent possible It looks like you might have the military in your campus.

image credit : theconversation.com