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Full-scale police departments are operating on college and university campuses. Empowered to patrol jurisdictions beyond school grounds – and armed with guns, Tasers and in some cases, military-grade equipment – campus police are blurring the lines between campus safety and local law enforcement. And similar to the growth of police in K-12 settings, campus police are generating concerns and complaints.

According to a recent Justice Department report on 2011-12 data, what’s been described as the most comprehensive survey of its kind, the vast majority of public colleges and universities—92 percent—have sworn and armed campus officers. Unsurprisingly, they’re much less prevalent at private colleges: Slightly over a third (38 percent) of them are equipped with their own law enforcement. Since the 2004-05 school year, the percentage of both public and private colleges nationwide using armed officers increased from 68 percent 75 percent.

Yet as the numbers of armed campus police have swelled, presumably in part as an effort to satisfy the Clery Act requirements, the Justice Department data reveals a string of contradictions. The report demonstrates that crime and the presence of law enforcement on campus have an inverse relationship: Increases to the numbers of officers on campuses are paralleled by declining rates of reported crimes at the schools. Yet even despite apparent reduction in crime, the numbers of campus officers have continued to expand—as have their responsibilities. Officers have increasingly gained the ability to arrest and patrol outside jurisdictions, and the growth to law-enforcement hires has outpaced that of student enrollment.

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(Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Occupy U.C. Berkeley Protesters Face Violent Confrontation With Campus Police)

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 28:  Chicago Police Sgt. Alan Lasch watches as students arrive at Laura Ward Elementary School on the Westside on August 28, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Lasch was posted at the school along with other police officers and city workers to provide "safe passage" to students walking to the school. The Safe Passage program was started because parents were worried about their children’s safety while they walked to school across gang boundaries after the city closed 49 elementary schools and moved the students to nearby schools.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Whatever title they hold – school resource officers, school safety agents or school police – the presence of law enforcement officers in K-12 public schools is a growing and, for some, disconcerting trend. In writing about school discipline this issue quickly began to assume outsize importance. With thousands of sworn law-enforcement officers now posted at U.S. public schools, social-justice activists, community leaders and parents are questioning the effect on campus culture.

Excerpt:

“The original point of SROs was to give young people the opportunity to interact with [police] officers in a positive way, and there is some reason to think this can be accomplished in some places,” said Emily Owens, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “But of course, having an officer means that there will be an increased likelihood that law enforcement is involved in what would otherwise be a disciplinary event.”

While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian. And some experts and juvenile-justice advocates cite systemic educational risks when police patrol school hallways. A report published by the Justice Policy Institute in 2011, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” concludes that placing SROs and other police in educational institutions exaggerates how school misbehavior, much of it involving minor infractions, is interpreted—to the extent that such activities can be treated as criminal offenses.

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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)