The Security Commission convened by President Joel Seligman and chaired by Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Ronald Paprocki was charged with an evaluation of UR’s security and eventually made a recommendation to the University. During its fairly lengthy lifespan, this commission did not find any increases in the incidence of crimes nor in the severity of crimes, yet also chose to recommend taking “steps to implement sworn officer status in a mixed system of sworn and unsworn officers.”
The decision to increase security officers’ qualifications to that of peace officers gives campus security more autonomy and authority to promptly respond to incidents that have a potential for confrontation, most notably by giving them the power to arrest. This rationale suggests that because there will be peace officers, UR will have better incident prevention and stronger response capabilities. We’re not so sure that’s the case.
Sure, at UR Medical Center (URMC), where incidents are much more common, there is a definite need for peace officers. Peace officer certification legally allows sworn officers to restrain patients or stop criminals if necessary, enabling security to serve as a first line of defense rather than as a middleman in charge of contacting the Rochester Police Department.
While such logic makes sense for URMC, there is not so dire a need for these officers on the River Campus.
Simply put, if there has not been an increase in the number or severity of crimes, as stated by the Security Commission, then increased authority is unnecessary. Additionally, there have been no historical incidents cited where the presence of peace officers would have enhanced campus safety.
While providing security staff with peace officer status will in all likelihood not be harmful to our campus, the fact that the officers will be equipped with batons and pepper foam as defensive weapons does increase the potential for trouble.
At the University of California Davis in 2011, for example, the unprovoked pepper-spraying of protesting students was highly controversial and quickly condemned.
While Deputy Director of Security Mark Fischer assured that security’s policies for dealing with students will not change, the fact that both security and students know that the officers now have more power is potentially problematic. According to Paprocki, the set of recommendations made by the Security Commission also included recommendations to strengthen relationships between officers and students, a goal that increasing security’s strength seems unlikely to promote, and a goal much more prudent than increasing the power of security,
Undoubtedly, the safety of students, faculty, and staff is the ultimate goal and primary responsibility of UR Security. While we are sure that they have our best interests in mind, we question whether more is necessarily better. The cost of training for this program, coupled with the potential backlash from the student body, are huge red flags, especially considering what little transparent evidence there is to justify its probable success.