Virginia Commonwealth University

Make it real.

Bill Defines Campus Police as Law Enforcement Officers

March 8, 2012

By Ashley McLeod
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Campus police officers across Virginia frequently put their lives at risk, just like members of any city, county or state police force. But in the eyes of the law, campus police are not considered law enforcement officers. A bill passed by the General Assembly would change this.

House Bill 771, introduced by Delegate Steve Landes, R-Verona, would expand the definition of law enforcement officers to include campus police officers at both public and private colleges. Campus police represent more than 3 percent of sworn officers in Virginia.
Similar legislation, House Bill 967, was introduced by Delegate Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, and died in committee.

Both Bell and Landes say they introduced their bills because they want to make sure campus police receive the same treatment as other law enforcement officers.

Campus police certainly face the same dangers as other officers. That point was tragically made by the December shooting of Virginia Tech Police Officer Deriek Crouse during a traffic stop on campus. Both Landes and Bell cite the incident as an important influence in introducing their legislation.

“We want to make sure that once and for all, campus police officers are defined and put in those same sections as any other law enforcement agencies,” Landes said. “They are facing the same types of dangers and concerns as other law enforcement officers; they’re doing the same training and have the same responsibilities.”

Bell was concerned about more than status.

“If a university police department and a city police department respond to the same call, one has certain protections that the other one doesn’t. I believe they should have the same protections and deserve to be treated equal to other officers,” Bell said.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Chief of Police John Venuti supports the legislation.

“House Bill 771 now carries campus law enforcement officers under the common definition of ‘law enforcement officer.’ This creates equity for campus police officers within the Code of Virginia,” said Venuti, who oversees the largest campus police force in Virginia.

While both bills aimed for the same goal, Bell’s proposal failed because of cost. According to an analysis by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, HB 967 would have cost more than $200,000. (That’s because the wording could have increased the number of arrestees sent to correctional facilities.)

The commission estimated that Landes’ bill would have no fiscal impact on the state.
Landes, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, worked early on to make sure his bill would not require spending a lot of money.

“I started on that end because I knew that was where the objection would be,” Landes said. “I don’t think anyone questioned the policy. It was just whether it would be a cost or not.”

After Bell’s bill failed, Landes worked to integrate sections of it into HB 771. The amended bill unanimously passed the Senate last week. The bill then went back to the House, which passed it Wednesday on a vote of 97-1. The bill will now head to Gov. Bob McDonnell to be signed into law.

In February, Venuti and other campus police chiefs spoke in support of the bill at a hearing held by a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. They said campus police do the same job – and deserve the same respect – as other law enforcement officers.

“With some, there is still a dated lingering perception that campus police are not real police officers,” Venuti said. “VCU Police are as real as it gets.”

Campus Police Officers in Virginia

Here is the number of sworn police officers at each college and university in Virginia, according to the Virginia State Police.

Virginia Commonwealth 82
University of Virginia 51
George Mason 48
Virginia Tech 48
Old Dominion 47
Northern Virginia Community College 45
James Madison 30
Hampton University 29
Norfolk State 24
Radford 21
Virginia State 21
University of Richmond 19
William & Mary 18
Christopher Newport 17
J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College 17
Longwood 15
Mary Washington 12
Virginia Military Institute 10
U.Va.’s College at Wise 8
Virginia Western Community College 8
Ferrum College 7
Richard Bland College 7
Emory & Henry College 2
Thomas Nelson College 9
Source: Crime in Virginia 2010

 

This CNS article is published at PotomacLocal.com and fredericksburg.patch.com.