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.
These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.