Colleges work to stop racial profiling before it starts

School administrators are considering the use of anti-bias training and body-worn cameras to prevent racial profiling by campus police officers.

Photo by Scott Davidson (Flickr)

This article is the third in a three-part series on allegations of racial profiling by college police departments. You can find Part One and Part Two here. This week’s installment focuses on strategies campus police departments can use to prevent racial profiling.

College and university administrators are considering practical initiatives in an attempt to rectify and prevent racial profiling by campus police.  Possible initiatives include anti-bias police training and the use of cameras worn by officers.  The effectiveness of these proposals remains in question as campuses begin to implement their use.

Anti-bias Training

The goal of anti-bias training for law enforcement professionals is to ensure that law enforcement officials have understanding, respect, and willingness to communicate with all segments of the population.  The overall hope is that all community members will feel that their concerns are understood and increase the community’s confidence in law enforcement officers.

Anti-bias trainings are criticized as being the easy answer.  Maria Haberfeld, who studies racial profiling as professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is skeptical of the belief that police officers can be taught to operate without bias in just a few training sessions.  Haberfield concludes that bias against certain groups can be so entrenched in one’s thinking and that such trainings are ultimately not going to improve situations in which an officer’s deep-seeded bias affects decision making.

Body-Worn Cameras

As a direct result of recent police shooting controversies, body-worn police cameras are being advocated as possible deterrents to inappropriate police behavior.  The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators currently offers a webinar on police cameras that are available to campus police agencies.

Calvin College and Davenport University in Michigan began using cameras shortly before the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri—an incident which has put pressure on other police departments to embrace the technology.  Calvin College leaders said the school made the decision to implement body-wear cameras in an effort to increase transparency.

“It gives us an impartial record of an incident,” said William Corner, Director of Campus Safety at Calvin.  “The cameras, you can’t tamper with them. If they’re on, they’re on. If they’re off, they’re off.”

President Obama has proposed spending $263 million in the next three years to increase law enforcement training and the use of body-worn cameras.  A White House blog post discussing the proposal promotes body-worn cameras, reasoning that “body worn cameras help strengthen accountability and transparency, and that officers and civilians both act in a more positive manner when they’re aware that a camera is present.”

Tom Saccenti, who helped organize the presentation developed by the Law Enforcement Administrators’ Association, agrees with the White House.  As Chief of Police at Furman University in South Carolina, he said that the cameras have helped in enforcing both laws and campus codes of conduct.  This change in behavior is not just by officers, but has also occurred in those being filmed.

“It is accountability for both sides,” Saccenti said.

Will these initiatives work?

College and university campuses are unique environments for a police force to function in.  Topics related to race are more frequently and openly discussed because of the nature of the academic learning environment.  As campus police make changes to prevent racial profiling, the campus setting will likely allow for an open dialogue as to what is working and what may not be working.

Anti-bias training and body-worn cameras may not be “end-all” solutions to curb police misconduct, but the implementation of those measures show the public that its concerns relating to racial profiling are being considered.

Hannah Emory, Associate Editor
About Hannah Emory, Associate Editor (15 Articles)
Hannah Emory is a Campbell Law graduate and served as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer for the 2015-2016 academic year. She is originally from Dunn, North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History. Following her first year of law school, Hannah interned at the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender.
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