Teaching the History of Campus Police

tags: teaching history, policing, primary sources, Campus Police

Yalile J. Suriel is an Assistant Professor of universities and power at the University of Minnesota. She is working on a manuscript titled Campus Eyes: University Surveillance and the Policing of Black and Latinx Student Activism in the Age of Mass Incarceration, 1960-1990. Along with co-editors Grace Watkins, Jude Dizon, and John Sloan, Suriel is working on an upcoming edited volume titled Cops on Campus: Critical Perspectives on Policing in Higher Education.

In December 1978, the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin shined a national spotlight on the incredibly rapid rise of University Police Departments. These departments emerged as one of several tools that institutions of higher education used to respond to student uprisingsnational calls for law and order, and to catalyze their role in projects of urban renewal. What was at the time described as a “relatively new and exciting field” quickly became a lynchpin of policing as these departments proliferated in college towns and major cities across the country. This expansion profoundly transformed neighborhoods and reshaped the very heart of university life. 

The Law Enforcement Bulletin, a rich primary source, provides a snapshot of campus policing at the very moment that these departments had “doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled.” The bulletin serves as a useful—and particularly practical—teaching document, precisely because it introduces many of the recurrent themes and narratives that are foundational to the history of campus policing. For example, the bulletin points to the 1960s and 1970s as a key period in the development of these new forces. It also identifies an array of constituencies—university administrators, faculty, students, board of trustees members, and campus police officers themselves—who had to be accounted for in discussions of the expansion and design of university policing. Furthermore, this primary source provides a launching pad into the many topics entangled with the history of campus policing, including: urban renewal, race relations in the post-civil rights era, expanding carceral networks, and how university police forces responded to a tide of resistance to their presence. These intertwined histories reveal, for example, how universities such as the University of Chicago have been a fundamental force in the gentrification and policing of the south side of Chicago. 

This source also allows students to grapple with how to critically read state-produced sources without reproducing the inherent conclusions embedded in the narrative. As The Law Enforcement Bulletin illustrates, university police often prided themselves on having adopted and evolved from “the best” of all worlds and as possessing the “potential for constant responsive growth.” As such, this is a document that encourages students to analyze the origin story that campus police officers have of themselves and to think about the work that their origin story does in legitimizing their continued presence in university space. 

Read entire article at The Metropole