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3 things to Keep in mind when Dealing with Campus Police

By June 13, 2022September 25th, 2023No Comments

It’s always smart to be cautious when dealing with the police or a security officer. Although you do have certain rights, a quick glance at the headlines will demonstrate these rights sometimes get violated.

That being said, does this advice also apply to campus police? What are some tips to keep yourself safe and out of trouble when dealing with the police?

At DC Student Defense, we put our clients’ rights as students at the forefront of every case. Below, we’ve laid out 3 things to keep in mind when dealing with campus police. But no matter the situation, the most important rule is to be polite and put the officer at ease. 

You do not want to create any situation where the officer – whether campus police or actual law enforcement – becomes worried about their own safety or that of others, because that can put you at grave danger for injury from the officer.

1. Campus Police May or May Not be Official Police Officers

While campus police are always empowered with some authority by the university, they may not have the same level of authority as a police officer employed by the state.

The legal status of a campus safety officer varies from school to school. There are generally three different types of campus safety offices:

  • An official police department run by the city or state government
  • A private security office contracting with off-duty police officers
  • A private security office employing non-police security workers

If the campus police at your school fall under one of the second two categories, they likely don’t have the authority to place you under arrest, although they might have the authority to detain you until a real police officer shows up.

2. Campus Policy is Different from the Law

Just because a campus police officer doesn’t have the same authority as a publicly-employed law enforcement officer, doesn’t mean they can’t impose consequences when you break the law or violate school policy.

Your school has a code of conduct, as well as a number of other policies dictating what is acceptable behavior for students. These policies may be different from local and state laws, meaning you could face academic consequences for something completely legal.

For example, let’s say you live in a state with legalized recreational marijuana, but your school has a policy against drug use on campus. Even though you didn’t violate any law, a campus security officer could still confiscate your marijuana and report you to school administration.

Another example is your right to remain silent. You always have the right to refuse to answer a police officer’s questions until your lawyer arrives, and this applies to private security guards, too. However, your school may provide consequences for students who are not cooperative with security officers.

3. Campus Police May have the Right to Search your Dorm Room

This distinction between campus policy and the law also applies to your right to refuse a search.

Police employed by the government only have the right to conduct a search of your property or belongings under three circumstances:

  • They have a warrant
  • They have your consent
  • They have probable cause

However, if you live in a dorm, there is probably a provision in your rental agreement that allows certain school officials to conduct a search of your dorm room. This policy may or may not include campus security officers.

This contradiction can sometimes lead to confusing situations. For example, if a campus police officer is conducting a criminal investigation as a publicly-employed law enforcement officer, they will have to get a warrant before entering your dorm room.

But in their capacity as an employee of your university, they may have the right to conduct a warrantless search.

Hire DC Student Defense Today

If you suspect your rights have been violated by a search of your dorm room or your belongings, our experienced legal team at DC Student Defense can help you parse these questions and figure out how to protect your rights as a student. Contact us today to schedule your first consultation.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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