DePaul relies on unsworn Public Safety for protection

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(Katie Tomosiunas / The DePaulia)

(Katie Tomosiunas / The DePaulia)

While many universities across the nation use sworn and armed police for campus security, DePaul continues to rely on unsworn and mostly unarmed officers to protect the community. The issue of armed security is ever more relevant following illegitimate shootings by officers like the one at the University of Cincinnati last year.

DePaul Public Safety officers are not armed nor have the power to arrest, as Chicago Police officers do. Instead, Public Safety officers primarily rely on local police to promptly arrive when offenders have been detained.

Bob Wachowski, the director of DePaul Public Safety, said that the current method is the best fit for the university. The downside of using a police department, he said, is that their officers are required by law to respond to any emergency, whether it is on or off campus.

“What that would mean is, given the layout of our campus, we would be doing a lot of services that are not directly related to the university,” Wachowski said. “That would kind of pull away some of our staffing from actually protecting the property. And that’s why it really works well as a model for DePaul.”

There are some major differences between the roles played by Public Safety officers and Chicago Police officers.

“We have the right to detain anybody. Our officers are trained in handcuffing and use of pepper spray,” Wachowski said. “Chicago police are the ones actually effecting the arrest, and we’re using their criminal court system for finger printing, processing and all that. We’re using their holding cells. Our campus doesn’t have to have all those types of accommodations.”

Yet DePaul Public Safety is not without armed officers. Wachowski said that three part-time Chicago Police officers work for Public Safety while they are off duty. They have concealed firearms, and wear the same uniforms that the rest of Public Safety wears. While DePaul doesn’t require them to have firearms, they usually choose to because they must respond to any emergency, on or off campus.

Besides the few armed officers who work for Public Safety, patrolling Chicago Police officers still have a presence around DePaul campuses, which are located in their larger patrolling beats. For instance, Chicago Police vehicles can be regularly found on Belden Avenue, across from the Student Center.

This method of security was adopted by DePaul in 1975, during a period of great student unrest in the United States following the Vietnam War. Many Americans at that time, according to The Atlantic, were concerned that police were not doing a proper job of maintaining safety in campuses.

Since its founding, Public Safety has greatly expanded in numbers, partly due DePaul’s acquisition of properties and the construction of new buildings. According to Wachowski, Public Safety currently has 35 full-time officers in Lincoln Park and 30 full-time in the Loop campus.

Some other universities, such as University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, instead rely on their own sworn officers, who are armed and have the power to arrest. Not only do they patrol their respective campuses, but also a larger beat. For example, the University of Chicago Police Department patrols the majority of the Hyde Park neighborhood, while the actual campus takes up the small southwestern corner of the beat, according to the department’s website.

In the past, there have been problems with armed police officers acting as campus security. Last year at the University of Cincinnati, an officer was charged with murder for shooting a resident, who was not a student, during a traffic stop. He was one of 72 armed police at the university who could arrest and patrol off campus.

Horace Hall, professor of educational policy studies and research, said that the line between campus security officers and campus police departments is becoming increasingly thin as they both expand their number of officers and area of patrol. Hall mentioned the University of Chicago as a prime example of this expansion.

“The interesting comparison between private police companies and municipal forces is the ‘military look’ both are taking on,” Hall said. “You have some campus safety officers who are entitled to make arrests and to carry a firearm.”

The number of universities that use armed police as security has increased in recent years, according to a campus law enforcement survey by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2011-2012. In 2004, 68 percent of four-year universities with 2,500 students or more used armed officers. By 2011, that number had increased to 75 percent.

There is also a tendency for public universities to rely on police departments for security than private universities. As of 2012, 92 percent of public institutions used sworn officers, compared to 38 percent of private institutions.

Even if the university has police officers for security or not, often dangerous situations are over by the time police arrive, Wachowski said. He stressed the importance for students, faculty and staff to have a plan of action in case becomes dangerous.

“Everyone has to come up with their own plan to survive in situations,” Wachowski said. “It not only helps them while they’re on campus. I mean, you see the news, it’s happening in movie theaters, it’s happening everywhere. If you have your plan, you’re more apt to survive a bad situation.”

One way to avoid unwanted trouble at DePaul is to use Public Safety’s escort service, where an officer can pick a student up anytime between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. to any on-campus location. Many universitites in Chicago have similar services, regardless if the ride is given by sworn or unsworn officers.

Some students at DePaul had concerns regarding their safety or the safety of others.

Emily Kosich, a junior who studies real estate, said she is sometimes concerned for her safety in the Loop campus.

“I feel like that when there’s guys sleeping on the streets, guys going through the garbage,” she said.

To alleviate concerns for safety, Kosich said that students should be more aware of their surroundings, instead of walking around while distracted on their phones.

Andrea Baldi, a senior who studies biology, said she doesn’t have any concerns, but she was surprised to find out that the majority of Public Safety officers are unarmed.

“I didn’t realize that was the case at DePaul,” she said.

Alex Leif, a sophomore who majors in international studies and political science, said he finds inebriated and underage students wandering around at night quite troubling. Public Safety could give these students rides home, he said.

“I myself don’t feel threatened when on campus, but when you’re walking out by yourself, inebriated, you’re definitely very vulnerable,” Leif said. “If there is a way that people could have support without fear of being reprimanded, I think that would go a long way.”