Changing Role of Campus Police Officers

The firefight between the marathon bombers and police in Boston suburbs left 15 officers injured, and one campus police officer at MIT dead.

Campus officers have taken on a more serious role in recent years.

Gone are the days where they merely bust parties and give out parking tickets.

“The initial typical role was a security officer,” said Ted Marnen, Director of Police and Safety at Gannon University.

“Somebody who walked around campus, somebody who gave parking tickets to campus violators, someone who locked and unlocked doors. It’s changed dramatically.”

Patrolman Chris O’Connell ran into some of those misconceptions when he first got on the job four years ago.

“A big issue when I first started was having people recognize that we’re an actual police department, that we do have arrest powers,” O’Connell said.

“When I was working third shift there were a couple times where I was trying to effect an arrest and I had to get a little physical with somebody, whereas if it was an Erie police officer dealing with it, it might not have been the case.”

Their base line training is the same as a city police officer, and the danger they face is the same, too, as seen with the shooting death of MIT officer Sean Collier, in Boston.

“They’re subject to being injured, shot at,” said Marnen. “We try to train them to be safe and cognizant of their surroundings but you just never know.”

Part of the danger at Gannon is its non- traditional position in the city. Campus police often have to deal with outside threats.

“We aren’t just dealing with our own students, we have to deal with the people around us… some of our neighbors aren’t so nice.”

Crime fighting is a team effort, and they often add their force to that of the city police department.

“We are here for backup if they need us,” said O’Connell.

Even if it’s not a big city like Boston, or a sprawling urban campus like Gannon, campus officers have to be ready to jump into action at any moment.

“Whether it’s in a rural setting in a fenced in area, they’re not in a bubble,” said Marnen. “There’s no vacuum, they’re still subject to crime.”

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