Students walking safely on college campus

The transformation of campus policing: how to prepare your institution for the road ahead

Higher education institutions are not immune to the growing focus for improvements in racial and social justice on campus. Protests held around the nation in the summer of 2020 have compelled many institutional leaders to broadly assess policies and resources in place and make actionable changes to support increasingly diverse campus communities. Campus safety and police departments, like their local and state policing counterparts, are one area that students, faculty and staff alike have requested continued assessment and analysis.   

Many institutions across the country have some form of campus police or safety, whether they are commissioned police officers with the same authority as local municipality police or campus safety support personnel. Staffing and resources are often tied to overall institutional size and headcount, as well as location.

Core missions for campus police and safety departments typically center on serving and protecting those who attend, visit and work at their institutions. Their myriad responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • Core policing activities (i.e., enforcing the laws of the local government and criminal law within the geography they are assigned, responding to calls of disruption and/or for order and safety and crime prevention)
  • Collaborating with local law enforcement agencies
  • Maintaining compliance with local, state and federal laws and regulations
  • Monitoring disciplinary incidents
  • Overseeing emergency preparedness, crisis management and disaster plan testing
  • Supporting institutional policies
  • Managing Clery Act compliance reporting and publication of crime statistics in the institution's annual security report (ASR)

However, as many campus police and safety officers will say, the value proposition for their departments lies in their more routine “non-policing” responsibilities, such as:

  • Overseeing building security, opening and closing campus facilities and making sure classrooms and labs are secure
  • Helping students, faculty and staff when they are locked out of offices and dorms
  • Chaperoning building inspections
  • Managing traffic patterns
  • Providing event security
  • Serving as first responders for medical emergencies
  • Facilitating community engagement and outreach
  • Providing safety and self-defense training

A call to action: five steps leaders can take now

Senior leaders can take a number of steps to respond to the transformation taking place on their campuses, while not discounting the current structure and efforts of their campus police or safety departments. Leaders should consider the recommendations below as a starting place when assessing the current state of their campus police or safety departments, and should develop a process for reporting and implementing identified improvements as appropriate.

5 steps for campus safety transformation and compliance

1. Establish a committee/taskforce to assess the current state of campus police and safety departments

  • Establish a cross-functional committee and/or taskforce inclusive of campus safety personnel and a wide variety of campus constituents that reflect diverse viewpoints to lead the assessment and analysis
  • Provide appropriate resources and visibility to the committee, as well as access to key leaders, process owners and/or department heads
  • Encourage the committee to establish a mission, determine what key outcomes will be and how progress and deliverables will be shared with the campus community. It will be key for the committee to work towards developing actionable and prioritized recommendations that balance keeping the campus community safe and meeting the needs of a diverse constituency
  • Encourage leadership to partner with the committee and be open and responsive to the findings and suggestions brought forward

2. Conduct a comprehensive review of institutional policies and procedures, including ownership and roles and responsibilities

  • Determine how ownership of campus safety and policing activities are defined and communicated
  • Assess policies and procedures (e.g., use of force) and roles and responsibilities related to campus policing and safety to determine whether they are:
    – Clearly defined and documented
    – Readily and publicly available
    – Consistent with applicable laws and regulations, leading industry practices and the institutional mission and strategic objectives
  • Engage subject-matter experts (SMEs), such as general counsel, outside counsel, law enforcement SMEs, mental health experts, community engagement officers and other relevant personnel in the review of policies and processes to expand perspectives
  • Consider assessing if current practices address relationships and interactions with local law enforcement and the community, if applicable

3. Assess the communication mechanisms across the institution

  • Identify modes of communication among key personnel/departments and the types of information being shared across the institution
  • Understand the incident response intake-related processes
  • Understand the emergency response procedures
  • Understand the communication process in the event there is a campus emergency, notification of a student or faculty death, or response to a situation that may impact the campus community
  • Review the institutional approach and plan for responding to national events on racial or social justice, as well as events or incidents that may occur on campus
  • Establish a timeline for communication and identify key individuals responsible for creating and distributing communications, as well as media outlets

4. Inventory all preventative and protective measures in place

  • Identify what resources are in place to support student mental and social well-being and determine if they are reflective of the diverse needs of the campus community
  • Review campus safety trainings or programs that are in place, including mental health trainings, and identify areas for improvement or opportunities to expand and increase trainings offered
  • Assess existing preventative and protective measures and determine if they are scalable to support the campus community; identify areas to enhance initiatives
  • Develop recommendations to address gaps and enhancement opportunities

5. Assess funding allocations and resources

  • Review current funding and allocations for campus safety and policing activities and assess whether they align with current safety needs, compliance requirements, institutional missions and strategic objectives and campus community needs
  • Develop a tool(s) to monitor the return on investment for trainings and programs related to campus policing and safety


Student, faculty and staff needs on campus are continuously changing, and at a rapid pace. Seniors leaders should work now to assess their plans and consider whether they and their police and safety resources are positioned to evolve and grow with their campus communities.

For more information, or to learn how Baker Tilly can help your institution, contact our team.

Adrienne Larmett

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