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“But I’m Standing Inside Right Now and I Need Help”: Security Projects and the Perceptions Of Campus Security

Published onNov 17, 2020
“But I’m Standing Inside Right Now and I Need Help”: Security Projects and the Perceptions Of Campus Security


Acts of violence at institutions of higher education have been heavily publicized, leading security on post-secondary campuses to become a hotbed issue in the media and in the daily lives of those who attend them. With extensive media coverage of events such as the attack on Jeanne Clery, and the mass shootings at Northern Illinois University, Dawson College, and Virginia Tech, many post-secondary schools are working to enhance their security practices. The present study uses Valverde’s (2001; 2008; 2009; 2010; 2011; 2014) security projects framework to examine the lived experiences of security measures on a Canadian urban-integrated campus. Through semi-structured interviews with administrators, campus police officers, students, and faculty, and constructivist grounded theorizing, this study provides an in-depth examination of security from multiple perspectives within one institution. Specifically, the study explores how the jurisdiction and logic of security projects have shaped perceptions of safety and security on campus. The resultant negative interactions of this jurisdictional model have affected the way students viewed security on campus and threatened the students’ perception of the campus police.


University campuses are synonymous with learning, youth, freedom, and expression. More recently, however, they have also become associated with a series of tragic events and the resultant need for increased security. Keele (2004) argues that crime now characterizes the post-secondary experience and that post-Columbine and 9/11, violence on campus has become normalized. In fact, there has recently been a number of foiled terrorist incidents where post-campuses have been the intended target (Higgins, 2020). The sensational media coverage of campus shootings, such as Virginia Tech (Hauser and O’Connor, 2007), Northern Arizona University, and the University of Texas, have brought the topic of securitization of post-secondary campuses to the forefront of government, institutional, and public debate (O’Donnell, Carter, Goodmon, Zunic, Smith, and Parsi, 2018). High profile school shootings in Canada, such as the 2006 Dawson College shooting, have also raised concerns for campus security (Marin, 2016). Evidence further suggests that countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom are also experiencing an increase in campus security (Forbes-Mewett, 2018). Yet, as Schildkraut (2016) explains, the coverage of violence on campuses is often skewed, overemphasizing perpetrators, focusing on sensational incidents, and representing the number of victims without context of larger crime patterns. Such misrepresentation of post-secondary violence has led to the emergence and implementation of new security practices across American and Canadian post-secondary campuses. For example, schools have implemented smart-phone applications, safe-walk systems, sirens, and mental health background checks on graduate students, all with mixed results (Fox and Savage, 2009; Bosselait, 2010; Randazzo and Cameron, 2012; Landreman and Thorp, 2020). The vast majority of research available on campus security is U.S. centric, largely quantitative, and focused on “closed” campuses, which are isolated and self-contained (Cresset, Benedict and Macdonald, 1996; Bosselait, 2010; Jennings et al., 2007; Horvat and Shaw, 1999). Missing from much of this research is both an in-depth understanding of campus security within a Canadian context and from the lived experiences of different levels of stakeholders (Bosselait, 2010; Gilmore 2016; Matt, 2017).

Our study addresses these gaps in knowledge by qualitatively examining how security measures are implemented and perceived on a Canadian urban-integrated university campus. In the last few decades, urban-integrated campuses have become a common campus design, and generally entail situating buildings belonging to institutes of higher education within urban centers (Horvat and Shaw, 1999). This campus layout presents different jurisdictional challenges for campus security than typical “closed” campuses, which are isolated and self-contained (Cresset, Benedict and Macdonald, 1996; Bosselait, 2010; Jennings et al., 2007), yet the specific security challenges urban-integrated campuses face has yet to be examined. Our analysis demonstrates that jurisdictional challenges, and the differing definitions of campus space held by students and university administrators, resulted in negative interactions between students and campus police. These interactions and the differing understandings of campus may have undermined the perceived legitimacy of campus police officers and other campus security measures.

Researching campus security is challenging because security is such a ubiquitous concept that “cannot be seen and measured objectively” (Valverde, 2014:383). As a result, much of the work found on security, although useful, is largely theoretical and philosophical in nature—focusing on “what is security” or “what security ought to be” (Valverde, 2014:383). Valverde (2014) argues that we cannot truly study security if we look at it as a noun or a thing because such an approach leads to deliberations over the value and characteristics of good or bad types of security.  Instead, one needs to qualitatively document and reflect on a “very wide variety of activities and practices that are being carried out under the name of security” (Valverde, 2014:383). By empirically studying security projects—the system of networks and processes that govern and assert the promotion of security—we can begin to draw inferences about how security is being constructed in a multifaceted way (Valverde, 2014).

Therefore, understanding how security is constituted in post-secondary institutions requires focusing on the activities and practices participants themselves describe as encouraging security, rather than outside observers (Valverde, 2014). Drawing on 18 qualitative interviews with campus security, students, faculty, and university administrators, and employing Valverde’s (2014) security project framework, we explore perceptions of safety and security at one urban-integrated Canadian university (referred to as CANUN2). In what follows, we begin with reviewing relevant literature on campus police and perceptions of campus security, before moving into a detailed discussion of Valverde’s security projects theoretical framework. We then describe our methodological approach before presenting our findings and conclusions.

Campus police

Campus police services are regular features on modern North American university campuses, dating back to at least the nineteenth century. Additionally, outside of North America, they are becoming more common as there is a growing emphasis on increasing campus security (Liu, 2018; Forbes-Mewett, 2018). Campus police are tasked with order maintenance and enforcement on campuses rife with young people. Their tasks may vary due to the particular cultures on each campus, for example, the presence of norms of excessive partying (Allen, 2017) or a campus-wide emphasis on social movements (Paoline and Sloan 2003; Patten, Alward, Thomas and Wada, 2016). The needs of campus police can also differ by the campus type and locale. Exemplifying this, Wade (2017) provided evidence that people on urban campuses feel more fear than those on rural campuses, which may impact policing practices and resources. Campus officers have varying tasks depending on their location, and their jurisdiction varies depending on campus and municipal policies and arrangements. The campus police service at CANUN2 has jurisdiction over university-operated structures, while all other buildings and spaces are considered to be under the jurisdiction of the municipal police.

Peak, Barke, and Garcia (2008) note that between 1986-2006 there was an increase in campus police forces with state-wide jurisdiction and a decrease in forces that only have jurisdiction on campus or within 10 miles. They noted that with this addition of jurisdictional powers, the number of officers on average had increased thirty-eight percent (Peak et al., 2008). Jurisdiction and oversight of campus police officers are further complicated by the growth of urban-integrated campuses (Horvat and Shaw, 1999), which are typified by buildings woven into an urban center rather than contained in one, easily identifiable area. Jurisdiction has been identified as an important issue for campus police, with some scholars noting that any discrepancy or over-stepping of jurisdiction by a campus police officer, such as arresting someone on the wrong side of the road (Jacobsen, 1995), could lead to a lawsuit or case dismissal (Hopkins and Neff, 2014).

The jurisdiction and use of campus police are constrained by a number of things, including resources, legal restrictions, and perceptions of campus crime (Patton and Gregory, 2014). Hopkins and Neff (2014) note that campus police jurisdictions are generally considered limited or extended. Extended jurisdictions range beyond the university campus, often to specific buildings where students live or frequent, or in a specified distance outward. They argue that defining the boundaries of modern campuses is increasingly difficult and makes defining jurisdictional areas of campus police much harder. Some states have attempted to answer the question of what happens when a crime is committed within the jurisdiction of campus police, but the suspect flees that jurisdiction with “hot pursuit” statutes (Hopkins and Neff, 2014). These statutes allow campus police to exercise jurisdiction off-campus when the pursuit originated on-campus. Canada has yet to formalize such a statute as a whole, as Canadian campus police departments are mandated by municipal police services and would engage their help in such a matter.

Perception of campus security

While the day to day actions of campus police have important repercussions, the way they are perceived also has important ramifications for feelings of safety and security on campus. Carrico (2016) found that the visibility of local police affected perceptions of campus safety more than the visibility of campus police, but that overall, a strong police presence of any sort was linked to providing a larger sense of security on campus. Additionally, Allen (2020) notes that perceptions of campus police power, training, and resources make students believe they are less equipped to handle serious situations than municipal police. This is crucial as perceptions of authority can affect how those who use a space will operationalize the resources. Perceptions of campus police authority have even been linked to the intervention of bystanders in harmful situations (Rizzo, Demers, Howard, and Banyard, 2020). Some research has also provided evidence that the perception of campus police can be shaped by interactions between students and local or state police services, and despite instances when they are institutionally separate, students can face difficulty drawing a distinction between them (Youstin and Kopp, 2020). This has particular importance for a study design such as the present one where the campus police are under the mandate of the local police service, as it could contribute to even more difficulty distinguishing between the two.

Security measures other than the police can also have an important impact on the perception of campus security. For example, Kieberg and Breseman (2004) discovered that students viewed emergency telephones as a more important crime prevention strategy than lighting or greater police presence. Some security policies have limited to no effect on perceived safety on campuses, such as campus gun carrying policies (Satterfield and Wallace, 2018). Furthermore, student support for campus security policies varies greatly and is not substantively determined by the perception of campus crime and safety (Schafer, Lee, Burruss, and Giblin, 2016). As evidenced by such unexplained variation, there are still many unanswered questions about the factors that impact perceptions of campus security.

Our analysis will demonstrate how tensions can arise when definitional understandings and perceptions of campus scope and jurisdiction differ among those who use the space and those who govern it. Further, we argue that incongruent definitions and understandings of scope (described in the subsequent section) and jurisdiction have resulted in negative perceptions of campus police, as well as negative perceptions of campus security more broadly. In what follows, we begin with a brief description of Valverde’s security projects framework (2014) and its application herein, followed by a case study description of the studied university, and a presentation of the major findings.

Security projects framework

Valverde (2014) defines a security project as “the governing networks and mechanisms that claim to be promoting security at all scales” (p. 382). For an institution, this includes the creation and promotion of security policies and technologies and their implementation. Valverde (2014) argues that social scientists contribute to the study of security more substantively when they focus on security projects, instead of the concept of security itself. She defined these projects as the systems and apparatuses that claim to enhance security in various spatial and temporal scales and may include policies and measures that have been instituted to fill a goal of security, through visible or non-visible methods (Valverde, 2014). For this study, a security measure is defined as a technique or technology used to enforce the dominant security goals of the society or institution it is present in (Ericson, 2006). Central to Valverde’s theoretical framework are the concepts of logic (which includes the justifications, reasoning, discourse, and goals of the project); scope (the temporal and spatial scale, and the formal and informal jurisdictions involved in the project); and, the techniques (which include the technologies or implementation of security measures). These concepts will be explored and operationalized in the following sections.


Valverde (2001) perceives security as an idealized goal as opposed to a state of existence. Framed as an objective, security can then be operationalized beyond practice to include techniques, relations, and institutions. Studying the logic of campus security projects allows one to consider whether measures were implemented primarily to protect the institution’s community, or as a response to idealistic constructions of the university campus as a “safe haven” (Fisher and Smith, 2009). For example, Ranasinghe (2012) examined an emergency shelter as a security project and found that concerns of front line staff that were outside of general physical security concerns such as bed bugs, job security, and unclean materials, ended up being defined in a way that made them security concerns through rationalizations about the law and governmental policies. In this way, the logic of the emergency shelter’s security policies reflected the idealized conditions workers wanted their environment to reflect, rather than existential security concerns.


A key component of any security project is its scope, measured on temporal and spatial scales and through jurisdictional relations (Valverde, 2011). The decisions made in these elements of the project can often illuminate where risks were seen and what assumptions were drawn, calling back to the logic of the project. When assessing the temporal scale of a security project, Valverde (2011) proposes that one should consider the timing of a security project, which influences when their measures are active or visible, as it provides insight into the nature of threats defined by current political rationalities. Specifically, when a security measure is used can demonstrate the normative values it is centered around (Crawford and Hutchinson, 2016). For example, if a security guard is only used at night when a building is empty, it could show that the biggest threat is perceived to be to the property, rather than to the people there during the day. Similarly, the spatiality of a security project and its consistency informs the security mechanisms or techniques that it will use (Crawford and Hutchinson, 2016). The spatial scale of a project can include the planning of land use, exclusionary zoning, or urban planning (Valverde, 2011).  Even the campus location in an urban or rural area could greatly affect the spatial scale of its security measures, as a more centrally contained campus could be a spatial measure in itself. Therefore, spatiality and temporality influence the types of techniques used in a security project such as a post-secondary campus, as do the jurisdictions that often intersect on campuses.

The intersection of authorities on campus is important to the third measure of Valverde’s (2014) definition of scope, jurisdiction. Valverde (2014) defines jurisdiction as the “governance of governance” (p. 155) and ties it to shifts in spatial scale that may be governed by or cause conflict along lines separating various actors. For this definition of jurisdiction, it is not only who will govern, and what will be governed, but how the subjects will be governed (Valverde, 2014). Jurisdiction includes the capacities for governance, the objects included under these capacities and the various “modes of governance”, or how they can exercise their governing power.  For example, Valverde (2009) notes that while a city park may have by-law officers who can issue tickets and thus have some “capacity” of governance over an area, they cannot arrest citizens in the park as the police are. While they both have governing capacities, the way in which they govern differs. Valverde (2009) also describes jurisdiction as the “governance of governance” (p. 155).  Relating to the city park example, the varying powers held by the police and by-law officers demonstrates the different “modes of governance” included in their individual capacities—both have the capacity to govern over an area, but the modes of governance or tools at their disposal (e.g., issuing fines versus powers of arrest) differ.  This mirrors campus and municipal officers who often have different roles within the same spaces.

Conflicts, Valverde (2014) argues, often arise over jurisdiction in territories governed by multiple authorities. For example, Randazzo and Cameron (2011) argue that campuses often have multiple levels of governing bodies, which adds a layer of jurisdiction in the authority of upper-level administration over security measures on campuses, rather than being confined to local or campus police. They illustrate that having numerous layers contributes to questions of jurisdiction and can create friction over how security measures are designed and implemented. As Valverde (2014) describes, when examining jurisdiction, it is important not only to assess who has legitimate authority over a security project but by considering that who has authority often determines how that authority will be used.


The final concept that is central to Valverde’s security project framework is techniques. Techniques are the measures used in security projects to implement the goals, and by extension, the logic of that project (Valverde, 2001). The connection between techniques and logic is based on Rose and Miller’s (1992) exploration of technologies of governance, where technologies (similar to techniques) form the avenues through which political rationalities, and thus the logic of security projects, get deployed and implemented. In other words, techniques are the way that a security project’s logic is implemented and operationalized. For example, Chan and Bennett Moses (2017) argue that Big Data is a technique (including the laws around it and the tools it is utilized for) used to implement the logic of societal governance of society. The next sections describe how this study operationalized these considerations in examining a Canadian university campus as a security project.             


To understand how security was defined and perceived on an urban-integrated Canadian university campus, we conducted eighteen semi-structured interviews with: three campus police officers, ten students and faculty, and five university administrators. There were eleven female participants and seven males, and pseudonyms were provided to all participants. All interviews were completed during the 2015-2016 academic year. Using multiple types of campus stakeholders allowed us to examine the perception of security measures and policies from various viewpoints, such as how policies are created, implemented, experienced. Administrators were chosen due to their particular participation in or knowledge of security policies and processes on campus. We began with a purposive sampling framework for recruiting members of each group. This is a common sampling method employed in qualitative studies that target individuals who are most likely to provide information pertaining to the research questions (Marshall, 1996), and is particularly effective when working within closed sampling frames like those encountered at a post-secondary institution (Ritchie, Lewis and Elam, 2003). With this recruitment approach, we contacted only the people whose roles would allow them to have contact with security policies. We also employed a “snowball sampling” structure (Biernacki and Waldorf, 1981) by asking participants to direct us to other relevant people. Other studies on campuses have used snowball sampling as it is an effective method when conducting research in areas with low numbers of staff (Rabe-Hemp, 2008; Jacobsen, 2015). Although CANU2 hosts a diverse student body, our small sample size did not offer a broad enough range of participants to provide insights about intersectional perspectives on security encounters.  

We sought to uncover participants’ perceptions of threats on campus as well as their perceptions and experiences of security measures using a semi-structured interview approach. Questions covered topics such as perceptions of authorities and largest threats on campus, what security measures they were aware of, and how they had previously engaged with those security measures (such as if they had ever called the campus police). Campus police and administrators were also asked about their role in creating and implementing security measures or policies. Given the semi-structured method that we employed, we did not construct a rigid interview guide; rather, we engaged in dynamic knowledge-producing dialogues that pivoted on each individual’s role, subjective knowledge, and receptiveness to the project (Brinkmann, 2013). Interviews lasted approximately fifteen to sixty minutes, with the average interview lasting thirty-six minutes. All interviews were digitally voice-recorded and transcribed verbatim when the participant consented. The interview length varied because some participants had very little knowledge of, or experience with, security on campus (shorter interviews) whereas others had extensive experience (longer interviews).

The interviews were analyzed using a constructivist grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014). Constructivist grounded theory prioritizes the participants' perceptions and experiences while also being reflexive, thereby enabling the researcher to draw upon pre-existing theoretical concepts, such as scope, jurisdiction, and logic to inform question creation and data analysis (Charmaz, 2014). This perspective acknowledges the interpretive nature of research and accounts for pre-existing theoretical ideas and insights. We began with an open-coding process that incorporated line-by-line analysis to identify key themes, concepts, and discourses. These codes were labeled to identify the activity or meaning the participants brought to them. The second step was a focused and more selective coding process that involved identifying the key theme areas such as campus space, interactions with “locals”, emergency pole, level of security, trespass orders, and multi-campus dispatch. Once a detailed list of codes was developed and operationalized, we conducted “axial coding” by grouping them thematically to develop relationships among and between the codes. Axial coding focuses on relationships between codes and begins to reconstruct connections between data that have been disassembled throughout the coding process (Saldana, 2009). Throughout the focused and axial coding phases, we conducted a comparative analysis to see where similarities and differences lay in the data generated by types of participants and reach theoretical saturation (Charmaz 2006). Throughout the coding process, we engaged in analytic memoing by reflecting on the meaning embedded in codes and their relationship to our research questions (Charmaz, 2014). This memoing helped form the basis of many of our theoretical insights and allowed us to further reflect on connections and gaps between what various groups of participants were saying. Having described our data collection and analysis processes, we now provide a case study description before presenting the main findings of our study.

CANUN2: A case study description

CANUN is a large Canadian university with approximately 20,000 students. It has four campuses, with eighty percent of students attending the main campus, CANUN1, and the majority of the remaining twenty percent attending its largest satellite campus, CANUN2. CANUN1 contains the features of a closed campus (Cresset, Benedict, and Macdonald, 1996; Bosselait, 2010; Jennings, 2007), such as a large area designated as campus property where most of the university buildings are housed and their campus security service having jurisdiction over that complete area. Conversely, CANUN2 is an urban-integrated campus, with campus buildings integrated into a populated, urban area (Horvat and Shaw, 1999). This campus model allowed us to investigate whether students at urban campuses fear the types of horrific incidents that have occurred on closed campuses (such as at Virginia Tech or Dawson College), or whether they have different fears growing from their unique campus situation.

CANUN2’s “urban campus” consists of approximately 20 buildings spread throughout the downtown area, with local businesses and city property in between. CANUN2 is situated within a medium-sized urban center with a population of roughly 100,000 people. Sixteen percent of its residents are on the low-income index (Statistics Canada, 2016), and in the downtown core, where the campus is located, more than thirty percent of residents live below the poverty level (Statistics Canada, 2011). In addition, the city housing CANUN2 repeatedly ranks highly on the Canadian Crime Severity Index (including in the studied year), especially in relation to other cities in its home province.

The university has been operating for approximately 25 years. While growth has been relatively slow, it is often the location for new and emerging programs and contains many of the same services offered on the main campus, such as a health center, a student-walk program, a writing center, and an accessible learning center. In recent years, the downtown area has experienced rapid gentrification from the influx of students. This changing demographic in the downtown core has resulted in what participants often described as a “palpable tension” between the students and the local community members who frequent the downtown area. This tension is connected to the increased opportunity for student contact with the local population. Horvat and Shaw (1999) acknowledged that tension is frequent on urban campuses and has a lot to do with the permeable boundaries of the campus compared to the literal walls and gates of closed campuses. These issues are often left for campus police to deal with and are greatly affected by the jurisdictional model the campus police are bound by.

Both CANUN1 and CANUN2 have their own campus police units, which, while separate, operate under the same university administration. They are separate because both units also hold a mandate from their respective municipal police services. While they are paid by the university, the municipal police services provide them with mandatory training, such as use-of-force training, and they report to an inspector at the municipal police department. The campus police do not carry guns, but at university buildings, they have every other right of a police officer, such as the right to arrest, detain, and question individuals. Outside of campus buildings, they return to having the same rights as a civilian. Decisions concerning security policies are made hierarchically at both CANUN1 and CANUN2. Participants described CANUN as having one main director that oversees campus services for both CANUN1 and CANUN2. This director approves the campus security standard operating procedures and is responsible for gaining approval for security measures from university administration when needed. They also help to facilitate and implement the introduction of policies created by the university administration.


This section presents the three main findings of this research: 1) The understanding of what campus entailed differed between students and the university; 2) these differing understandings contributed toward conflict between the students and campus security measures, particularly campus police; and 3) these conflicts and competing understandings led to negative views of campus security and of the campus police. The sections that follow elaborate on each of these main findings and provide evidence to substantiate them.

Centrality of “scope” and jurisdiction for understanding perceptions of (in)security

Employing Valverde’s security projects framework, our analysis uncovered the importance of “scope”—and its intersecting properties of spatiality and jurisdiction—for understanding perceptions of safety and security on this university campus.  Specifically, our analysis uncovered how the intersectionality of “spatiality” (land use and exclusionary zoning) and “jurisdiction” (governance of governance) of a security project informs the security mechanism and techniques used and shapes perceptions of safety and security on campus. By studying the interplay of “spatiality” and “jurisdiction”, we identify the different modes of governance campus police and the city police hold at CANUN2, and how these different modes have led to negative perceptions of campus police, and by extension, campus security. 

Campus police, as explained above, are paid employees of the university, but their contract and mandate are held with the municipal police service. Campus police report to the local police inspector and work closely with the service’s downtown patrol officers (referred to as “beat officers”). Thus, while the university defines their geographic boundaries and creates policies that govern the campus police and their day-to-day tasks at the university, the campus police are also beholden to agreements with the municipal police. For example, campus police officer Clarice described how complicated the role of the campus police would be in an active shooter situation, which they often practice with the municipal police department:

We pretty much quarantine the area, and we are the liaison between the management side of [CANUN]. When we get our command posts set up, then we will liaison with the police and back and forth dealing with that, helping injured students, so we wear many hats in that situation.

This description exemplifies the line that the campus police straddle between the university and the local police, often viewing themselves as the go-between and in a liaison role rather than being the controlling authority.

The campus police work under the security policies created and governed by the university administration, which is housed at the “closed” main campus. One central dispatch center is used for both campuses and is situated on the main campus. When a person at CANUN2 needs assistance from the campus police and calls the emergency number, they are directed to dispatch at CANUN1. While this is likely cost-efficient, participants frequently noted that dispatchers were unfamiliar with CANUN2’s layout and could not quickly pinpoint a location from street or building names. According to campus police officer Fred, when dispatch is called with an issue that is outside of campus police jurisdiction, dispatch is supposed to contact the municipal police. However, students reported a different experience. Student participant Sanu described being told by dispatch that there is nothing they can do, and she should call 911 herself:

We’re told to utilize campus partners so apparently [campus police] are supposed to be like the first call and then there’s been a couple times that [dispatch has] been like “no call 911.” It’s kind of like, I’ve called you … it’s like why aren’t they really taking the next step and being like ‘let me call 911, I’ll dispatch them’ because they always say they do have a really close relationship with the [municipal] police.

Under the current jurisdictional model, campus police are responsible for the governance of the inside of all campus buildings except for one outside corridor. As Officer Clarice explained, they have the power to arrest someone for committing a crime on university property but are unable to respond if the incident occurs on city property, which includes the sidewalks between university buildings.  The spaces outside of the university are under the municipal police services jurisdiction. Further, the municipal police have the power to take control of any campus incidents or investigations that become flagged as serious crimes. This directly relates to the question Valverde (2014) raises about the “governance of governance,” where two agencies can have different responsibilities within the same spaces.

At one time, the campus police shared office space with the municipal police services’ downtown beat unit. However, due to service cutbacks, the municipal officers no longer have an office downtown and their coverage of the downtown core has been significantly decreased. As campus police officer Clarice explains,

[I]t's been up and down over the years. Like right now, they're down to two officers and they're only here Monday to Friday. At one point we had eight officers on the [municipal downtown] unit so that's the problem when [municipal] police get short-handed, the [municipal downtown] unit is usually the first one that they'll pull the bodies from to put onto the platoons.

This has had a direct effect on the perception of the downtown area and added pressure to the role of the campus police as the main authority figure in the space. Similar to Carrico’s (2016) observations that police visibility on campus is positively associated with a sense of security, our participants expressed concern about the decreasing numbers of municipal police officers in the areas most students commonly consider to be “campus.” This has negatively impacted perceptions of safety and security in the areas on and around campus because as Scott, a university administrator, explained, the visible presence of municipal and campus police provided a greater sense of security on campus:

We have our [municipal downtown] officers, which I think are now down to just one person, so with changes with [municipal] police services, although we get lots of support with the police in downtown, there's only one [municipal downtown] officer on for the time being. I think he works between 8 and 4, his name [redacted] he's great. Having people walking around in the downtown, like our 8 [municipal downtown] officers, I think that added to this idea of what safety and security meant (emphasis added).

Spatiality, jurisdiction and the enactment of campus policing

The spatial design of CANUN2—with its mix of private and public space—is unique compared to the “closed” CANUN1 campus, where the majority of university facilities are located on a single parcel of private land.  The mixed composition of public/private property at CANUN2 entails that campus police lose jurisdictional authority the moment a student steps outside of a university building. As Officer Clarice explains:

So on this street here we have authority at [university building on the corner], we don't at [restaurant next to it] or [the business next door], we do at the [campus building across the street] and [the campus building next to it] so we're constantly bouncing back and forth between our police powers to our civilian powers. So that's always one challenge here…but we seem to be doing alright with it.

Although the university administration and campus police share a definitional understanding of “campus space,” these spatial understandings differ significantly from how students and faculty define and perceive campus space. This is why examining lived experiences of the spatial constraints of security measures is crucial for applying Valverde’s (2014) framework. As the student participant Michael explained, “Campus I would define as the space where the farthest-reaching buildings set a parameter.” In this way, students often perceived their urban-integrated, “open” campus to be more like a “closed” campus—perceiving the areas between campus buildings and parking structures as part of the university campus. This discrepancy was exacerbated by the reduction of municipal officers who do have jurisdiction over these areas.

Such differing understandings of what constitutes campus space, we argue, has led faculty and students to be frustrated with security practices on campus and facilitated a negative perception of campus police and, by extension, campus security. For example, a student, Mariah, reflected on a time that she was harassed and followed by men on a city street. The incident occurred around the corner from the campus security office, but when she went there for help, there was no one in the office. The student ran into the campus building next door, where a university employee helped her call the campus police dispatch center. When Mariah called for help, she was told:

Even though I’m a [CANUN] student, because I wasn’t in a [CANUN] building [when the incident happened], there wasn’t really much that they could do for me. And, I was like, “But I’m standing inside of a [CANUN] building right now and I need help.” … I was standing inside of [CANUN] building … [and] the situation took place outside, and they’re like “but that’s city property.” And because the buildings are technically on or surrounded by city property it causes a jurisdictional issue ... I think they [have to] sort that out because as a [CANUN] student if you’re just going to help me in the building, what if something is happening in a building and I escape … I need to know that you’re going to, that you have my back when I’m outside as well. Especially so close, I [was] literally standing right outside [when it happened].

Mariah’s experience draws attention to the importance spatiality and jurisdiction play in experiences of, and perceptions toward, campus security. Due to conflicting definitions of campus, a student only discovers they cannot be helped by the campus police when they are already reaching out to them, already engaged in the process of relying on them for assistance. This left Mariah, and leaves other students, worried that they cannot trust the campus police for protection when they most need it.

The competing understandings of campus space have made students, and even faculty, frustrated with campus police and their inability to assist them, as demonstrated by the account of Sanu: 

There has been a couple times where at [the park outside my campus office building] there was a fight going on between locals. It was 10 minutes before we had a campus tour, so I called [the campus police] saying “hey right across the street from me there’s a fight and families are standing right outside watching. Can you just go and deal with it?” And they said “no, we can’t. It’s not our property, it’s not our territory.” … They’re supposed to be there for campus safety, and I would say [the park] is kind of a part of the campus but also the town’s. I am so confused about when it’s a [campus police] thing and when it’s a 911 thing. 

Sanu’s experience above illustrates the importance spatiality and jurisdiction play in perceptions and experiences of security. Different understandings of what constitutes “campus space” have resulted in differing, and often negative, perceptions of campus security. The implications of this definitional disconnect results in a vastly different perception of the level of security on campus and the effectiveness of security measures. This is similar to the findings of Patten et al. (2016), who noted that students’ lack of understanding of campus police roles and responsibilities often correlated with lower levels of perceived legitimacy. Notably, in the current study, those participants who characterized the level of security as enough or at a high level were almost universally administrators, campus police officers, and at times, the faculty participants. Conversely, the student participants and one faculty member described campus security as lacking or stated that they felt insecure on campus.

Spatiality, jurisdiction, and the shaping of security techniques

The spatial design of CANUN2 has not only shaped the work of campus police but has also informed the placement of security technologies. For example, the university has installed an emergency pole. The emergency pole is a large yellow pole with a red button on it that, if pushed, activates a spinning blue light and sends a call to the campus police that someone at that location needs assistance. The pole is located in the only university designated courtyard—a courtyard surrounded by university buildings. As Officer Clarice explained, the emergency pole was placed in that courtyard because it is the only outdoor space in the downtown that the university has jurisdiction over.

Due to its location, many participants questioned if it was effective in its current position, including Michael, a student at CANUN2:

Yeah. I would say that’s completely ineffective in that position. There are four buildings right there … if somebody wants help for trouble or if someone is in trouble, they’re going to run to one of the buildings, they’re not going to be clicking one of the security poles. It’s just, it’s useless.

The findings of Kleberg (2004) demonstrated that students placed a high value on the presence of emergency telephones. Yet, almost all students and faculty interviewed questioned the value and utility of the emergency pole due to its geographic placement. When discussing campus security, students noted that they did not experience fear in the spaces closely connected to campus, but instead, wanted security measures—such as the emergency pole—located around city bars or between campus buildings and large public squares where many local community members congregate for many hours of the day, rather than on campus property. Students must frequently travel through these spaces to get to and from class, yet as noted above, campus police do not have jurisdictional power over these spaces. This led some students to raise questions about the school’s responsibility for students’ safety while traveling to classes and residences. This is an example of the techniques of a security project not fulfilling the ideal security environment as defined by participants in the institution. This is likely due to the logic underlying the security project being incongruent with the expectations of those governed by it.

Similar to the placement of security technologies, the enactment of security techniques -such as “trespass orders”—are informed by the spatial and jurisdictional scope of security projects. A trespass order is issued by the university to change the way someone is allowed to interact with the campus and can be used in various degrees. Trespass orders exemplify a security measure whose temporal and spatial scales illustrate the underlying assumptions of the institution about security. According to campus administrator Shelly, at the least restrictive level, a person can be barred from a specific building, such as a university residence, or barred from accessing certain services, such as athletic buildings. A student can also be restricted from accessing campus buildings or have prescribed access (such as access for classes only). It is important to note that trespass orders are distinct from “expulsion” because while a student can be trespassed for physically attending campus buildings, he or she can still enroll in online courses. Campus administrator Charles explained that this distinction is often drawn to protect a student’s future career and schooling, especially in cases where a student may have been charged during an incident with another student but has not yet gone to court. This is important for potential legal ramifications from which the university protects itself. Trespass orders can be issued to students, staff, and community members alike. The decision to lay a trespass on someone depends on who is being trespassed and why the order is necessary. Shelly also noted that local community members were often trespassed by the campus police due to repeated incidents or threatening behavior, whereas students usually receive a trespass order in consultation with the university’s conduct or administrative student advocate’s office.

The lived experiences of how trespass orders are operationalized have demonstrated several key problems. Student participant Jane highlighted the consequences of how easy these orders are to break and how it affected her perception of the effectiveness of the campus police. Her experience is particularly important because it illuminates the ramifications of security policies that are incongruent with the needs of those who expect to be protected by the security environment they exist in. After another student sexually assaulted her, Jane reported the incident to the campus police, who took her statement and then brought in the municipal police. However, in the end, no formal charges were laid. In consultation with university administrators, Jane was encouraged to get a peace bond against the perpetrator, which provided the school with grounds to take further action. As Jane recounts:

I did drop the case and then the school told me that they could figure it out you know just because I couldn’t criminalize him, they would do something. They told me to go get a peace bond, which is essentially a restraining order and that I could do that in a day … So I went there, and I ended up going to court probably 8 times, and never got the peace bond.

Without this peace bond, university officials could not remove the student from campus and decided to keep them separated. The accused student was in her program but was not allowed to enroll in courses that she was taking. To prohibit him from taking the same classes, the university provided him with a copy of her schedule, which enabled him to come to some of her classes and follow her on campus. As Jane explains: 

There was a lot of miscommunication, people wouldn’t relay things on, so [campus police] would, let’s say if the student who had assaulted me came to my classes, he was informed he was not allowed to come to classes. And then he would show up to try and find me.

The experience of these measures is important to note because the fundamental nature of the agreements that kept the victim and accused separated, provided information that gave the accused access to the same spaces as the victim. While this was not the intention of the university, the nature of the measure and the limited options the university had without a court order facilitated further harassment, demonstrating the limitations of this technique.          

Eventually, in conjunction with his other behavior, university policies allowed the perpetrator to be trespassed from campus, but not expelled. On a “closed” campus setting, such as CANUN1, the person with a full trespass would be banned from the entire campus, including the pathways between buildings and food-service buildings on campus.  However, at an urban-integrated campus, the applications of full trespass orders are constrained by the geographical definition of the campus, meaning that a person cannot go in campus buildings but can be on the sidewalks outside of buildings or access areas that many students pass through. Administrators acknowledged this problem during interviews. As Jane explains, despite her attacker’s trespass order, she has still been followed by him and encounters him in spaces surrounding, but not on, university properties. 

Local community members can also have trespass orders placed on them. The persistent loitering of non-students (those who frequent the same downtown area but do not attend the university) and what to do about it was of particular concern among participant groups. Non-students in this area are often transient or street-involved highlighting a tension between gentrification of the area and the risk students feel non-students pose. This is a particular problem for urban-integrated campuses that may explain why rural campuses have lower rates of fear (Wade, 2017). In the city housing CANUN2, many of the residents choose to spend their time at, and outside of, a local coffee shop located at the base of one of the university residence buildings.  However, this specific coffee shop was frequently mentioned as an area of concern by all participant groups. Although the coffee shop is part of the residence building structure, it cannot be entered or exited through the residence and is considered in the jurisdiction of the municipal police rather than the campus police. Participants in all groups frequently acknowledged a tension between the local community members and the students, resulting in feelings of insecurity in students. As Frank, a faculty member, described:

[The local coffee shop] is to me, is the place I feel the least comfortable on campus and I understand that's not our campus but that's where the [residence] is. And I know several of those students including a friend of mine's daughter, she was put in [that residence] and she lasted about half the year and just spent the rest of the year driving home because she didn't like to walk to or from her building cause all the stuff that was happening outside of [the local coffee shop] (emphasis added).

Administrators and campus police alike commented on the issue that the local coffee shop presents and acknowledged that it makes many students feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Officer Clarice noted the steps that they have attempted to take to quell the problem, such as checking the doors and laying trespass orders on anyone sitting on the residence stairs. However, without jurisdictional authority, these security techniques are unable to make a large impact. The lack of jurisdictional power has left students and faculty to question the effectiveness of security practices, most specifically the work of campus police. These negative perceptions, we argue, stem from confusion over the definition of what constitutes campus space. The gap between expectations and reality is a crucial element that security apparatuses must adequately address, or security will appear to be inadequate.

Negative perceptions of campus police appear to be affected by negative interactions with students, which are usually the result of the confusion and disagreements over campus police jurisdiction and other measures, such as trespass orders. In many cases, the confusion around jurisdiction has led the campus police to be often viewed as unable and/or unwilling to help. Such perceptions have resulted in students exclusively calling the municipal police for assistance instead of campus police. As Sanu explains:

I know a lot of my friends just skip over campus police completely, they’re honestly taken as a little bit of a joke on this campus from the people I surround myself with. A lot of people just bypass [the campus police] and go to 911 for anything.

For other students, this lack of perceived legitimacy can also mean taking matters into their own hands. Michael described a situation where a local community member was standing on a downtown sidewalk between multiple campus buildings and behaving in a hostile manner. Instead of calling the campus police, the students decided to intimidate the man physically:

He was really looking at us very hostile, but we decide honestly [the campus police] are not going to do anything about it, we don’t even bother at this point because they’ve got such a reputation amongst the student body that [the campus police] don’t do anything. We walked into a restaurant, we sat down only to have our other friends tell us that that same man was spitting on students as they were walking by and then we got really mad and we wanted to fight him, but we decided that it would be best to just leave it be. We walk up behind him we say: “Is this the guy?” We look at him, gave him a good scare … just because we know that [the campus police] won’t do anything about it. 

Sanu described being spit on by the same man and opting to call the campus police about it, only to have her call unanswered four times. Eventually, she had to walk past the man again, who was still spitting on people, in order to reach the campus police building. She was able to talk to someone there who said they would look into it, but she was unsure about what happened to him after. Negative perceptions of the campus police were described in almost all student interviews, but not in interviews with faculty or administrators. Faculty and administrators likely have a clearer understanding of how the university defines campus and may feel less targeted or intimidated by the local population. Their interactions with campus police tended to be of a different nature than those of students, also potentially contributing to the difference in perceptions. The next section will discuss the importance of these findings and describe key areas that should be further analyzed.

Discussion and conclusion

This study contributes to the security projects framework by illuminating the importance of scope for studying security projects and the need to examine perceived spatial scales by those who use the institution, rather than only the spatial boundaries as defined by the institution itself. While Valverde (2011) includes land use, urban planning, and zoning as ways to examine the spatiality of a security project, it is also important to examine where these definitions differ from those who are part of the institution but are not its decision-makers. For CANUN2, these spatial definitions underscored the difference between the realized jurisdiction of the campus police and the students’ expected jurisdiction. 

Valverde (2008) focuses on the role of the “police as a hinge between the two key temporalities of governance” (p. 147) because they make decisions about how to enforce modes of governance that can even have varying scales within their own agencies. This means that while multiple parts of their agencies may have the same powers to govern over a specific incident simultaneously, certain groups will often be the ones to exercise this power based on the nature of the incident (e.g., serious or violent crimes). The importance of these distinctions is evidenced in the present study, particularly in regard to how the campus police balance the separate bodies that govern them (the municipal police and the university). While they are paid by the university, they are mandated by the municipal police and subject to restrictions placed on them by both powers. This is a blending of the public and private domain, where a public police service is given power at a private institution. In this way, how campus police are able to govern differs from how the municipal police are able to when they respond to calls within the same area.  While Valverde (2008) speaks of jurisdiction from a theoretical perspective, the study contributes to understanding how the application of jurisdictional models can be subject to unforeseen and difficult challenges, affecting perceptions of security as a whole.

The issues of jurisdiction and campus space best illuminates the importance of Valverde’s (2009) point about examining how bodies are governing, rather than who is doing the governing. With the focus currently placed on drawing jurisdictional lines in the sand, the practicality of applying security measures is being lost. If the emphasis was instead placed on what methods of governance would be the most effective, especially considering limited resources, the authority of the campus police might be viewed as more effective. For example, if students were able to contact the campus police to deal with issues such as harassment when walking between classes, that would free up the remaining municipal downtown police officers to handle other local community issues. This is of specific importance on an urban-integrated campus such as CANUN2. Due to the students’ definitions of campus as more than university-owned property, this would likely increase the perception of the campus police as an effective authority rather than a symbolic presence.

Jacobsen (1995) identifies two models of police jurisdiction: (1) Limited, where jurisdiction is bound by property owned by the university and often differs from the student perception of campus, and (2) University-Precinct, where jurisdiction is based on the property owned (i.e., territory) by the university and then radiates externally in varying distances to include areas where students often frequent and live. The issue that is being exemplified at CANUN2 is that with an urban-integrated campus, in a city with tensions between students and the local population, a limited (Jacobsen, 1995) jurisdiction of the campus police is not enough. It is worth exploring whether the University-Precinct model described by Jacobsen (1995) would be more successful at CANUN2. In the University-Precinct model, campus police officers are granted jurisdiction not only over campus property, but property adjoining it for an extended period that is negotiated with the municipal police service. While previous studies have noted jurisdictional challenges faced by campus police (Jacobsen, 1995; Peak et al., 2008; Hopkins and Neff, 2014), the present research uniquely connected these jurisdictional challenges with negative interactions with students. As demonstrated by Youstin and Kopp (2020), negative interactions with either campus police or local police are crucial as they can have repercussions for the overall perception of campus police, and by extension, campus safety.

Our study also raises concerns about how negative perceptions of campus police, stemming from jurisdictional and spatial issues, can affect the perceived legitimacy of campus police. Police legitimacy can be defined as centering around four main tenets: “trust and policing styles, police-citizen interaction, use of force, and oversight/accountability” (Noppe, Verhage, and Van Damme, 2017, p.475). Perceived legitimacy is important for many parts of police work, including citizen’s views of accountability and confidence (Weitzer and Brunson, 2013; Crichlow and McGarrell, 2015). In line with our own findings, Wada, Patten and Candela (2008) illustrate how campus police officers are often stuck in a liminal state between being viewed as a civilian and as a legitimate authority figure. This liminal state, we argue, is impacted by student and faculty perceptions of and experiences with campus police and how they are perceived to manage serious situations (for similar arguments, see Allen, 2020). Allen (2017) further contends that contrary to previous research, students tended to focus on the role of campus police as being the disruptor to their fun (even if potentially harmful, such as excessive drinking) rather than serious crimes. 

Absent from this existing literature, however, is a close examination of the interaction between the jurisdictional model and perceived legitimacy of campus police. Our study provided evidence that perceptions of campus jurisdiction and scope can negatively impact the perceived legitimacy of the campus police. For example, many students in the present study expressed reluctance to rely on the campus police due to previous attempts being noted as outside of the campus police jurisdiction and referenced their overall campus reputation as being poor. They did not feel that campus police could, or would, help them in difficult situations, and articulated plans to call 911 if needed in the future instead. This lack of faith in campus police response demonstrates threats to one of the main central elements of perceived legitimacy, trust (Noppe et al., 2017).

Equally as crucial, Aiello and Lawton (2018) found that the perceived legitimacy of campus police is significantly associated with reporting likelihood, regardless of crime type (see also Aiello, 2019). While CANUN2’s administrators, faculty, and campus police were quick to point to the campus as being statistically safe, the low perceived legitimacy of the campus police may mean a low frequency of reporting by students. This is of particular concern for CANUN2, as confusion around when campus police can or cannot assist students has caused them to be bypassed as an authority altogether. With this delegitimization, their presence may not be viewed as a significant deterrence to crime on campus.  The present study shows that it is important to consider the cycle of the reporting process in its entirety. The fact that students had negative interactions with the campus police, and often did not report incidents, or simply reported them to the municipal police instead, means that the university may not be capturing reported victimizations in addition to unreported ones.

The concern around accurate reporting is of particular importance in the context of the attempt by many universities to brand themselves as “safe” in the emerging campus climate of security. Fisher, Hartmen, Cullen, and Turner (2002) acknowledged that the Clery Act (where universities in the United States must report incidents of victimization on campus) does little to prevent crime and is not regulated well enough to ensure accurate reporting. They further connect the advantage of institutions missing or misrepresenting victimization data to the push for universities to appear safer than other comparable institutions in order to recruit applicants. The jurisdiction of urban campuses can also allow universities to represent themselves as more statistically safe due to how they define on-campus crime. For example, if a student is victimized on the sidewalk of the library on a closed campus, this may be on university property and thus is counted towards on-campus crime. However, at an urban campus, the same situation may be considered to be on city property, as it would be at CANUN2, and instead is counted towards the city’s crime rate only.

Limitations of this study include the small number of campus police officers (n=3) who were interviewed. At the time of the study, the department was undergoing high turnover, and the department rapidly (but temporarily) shrunk in size. Additionally, at least one officer had concerns over the optics of participation in the study, which further limited participation. However, a large amount of data was gathered from officers despite these challenges, and three officers represented a substantial proportion of the department due to their small size. Only one campus was studied due to time and resource constraints, and a comparison of multiple campus types would have provided further potential data. A multi-campus study incorporating different campus types and jurisdictional models would be an ideal next step for the questions raised by this research. Lastly, it should be noted that this study was unable to consider the impact of diversity and race on perceptions of campus police. A recent study by Allen and Jacques (2020) found that black students felt discriminated by the municipal police but not the campus police. While the present study could not address this issue, further examination of how race influences the perception of, and experience with, campus police is necessary.

Future research should consider the impact of jurisdictional models and definitions of campus space on the perceived legitimacy of campus police. Additionally, more research on campus security at urban-integrated campuses should be conducted, as much of campus security literature still focuses on “closed” campus settings (Cresset, Benedict and Macdonald, 1996; Bosselait, 2010; Jennings, 2007; Horvat, and Shaw, 1999). Previous research has noted that colleges should survey their student body more frequently to understand their perceptions of safety and security on campus (Patton and Gregory, 2014). However, this research would extend that recommendation to include asking students about what areas they expect to be protected by campus security measures, including campus police, and compare that to the actual boundaries of the measures. This is crucial for an urban-integrated university with permeable borders (Horvat and Shaw, 1999). In a multi-campus model, it should be acknowledged that what works for one campus might not necessarily work for the other, and there can be varying needs existing beyond that, such as the considerable town-gown tension exhibited in the areas surrounding CANUN2. In addition, surveys of students’ perceptions of campus security should also include the perception of interactions with campus police. This research has demonstrated that many negative interactions with campus police stem from confusion over boundaries and definitions of campus. 

With the increased focus on post-secondary campuses from the media, it is important to continually assess the priorities and lived experiences of changing security measures. Additionally, a change in priorities may leave students who are experiencing insecurity on campus with nowhere to turn, especially at campuses where the jurisdiction of the campus police may not align with the unique challenges of their campus. With this information, post-secondary campuses, particularly urban ones, can reflect on their own jurisdictional boundaries and how they may connect or not connect with students’ understandings of campus space. They may also take a critical look at the negative interactions with campus police reported by students and evaluate how many of them stem from confusion over boundaries.


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Andrea Corradi is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Criminology at Pennsylvania State University and is finishing a graduate certificate in Security Studies from the Penn State School of International Affairs. She is a University Graduate Fellow and studies mechanisms of social control, security, policing, and terrorism.

Carrie B. Sanders is is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Director of the Centre for Research on Security Practices (CRSP) at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her research focuses on police technologies and organizational change, police intelligence practices, and human security.  Her research has been published in British Journal of Criminology; Policing & Society; and Gender & Society. Her new book is Security and Risk Technologies in Criminal Justice: Critical Perspectives (2019, Canadian Scholars Press)

James Popham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he researches issues of cyber criminality, technology, and social empowerment. His background, both professional and scholarly, includes work with marginalized and criminalized individuals from multiple backgrounds across Canada.

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