A Crash Course in Collaboration: How Technology can Fuel Better Engagement Between City and Campus Police Departments

The National Center for Education Statistics forecasted an enrollment of 19.9 million adults across U.S. colleges and universities. How can campus security stay ahead?

By Rich LeCates, Director of Product Management, Public Safety Analytics, CentralSquare Technologies

This fall, the National Center for Education Statistics forecasted an enrollment of 19.9 million adults across U.S. colleges and universities. To meet the volume and demands of growing student populations, many campuses have extended their boundaries to accommodate new academic, residence and service facilities. Often, the modern college campus not only becomes part of its surrounding city but in many ways a city in and of itself. Today’s students work, shop, eat, bank and play on school grounds, in addition to studying and living.

The growth of college campuses, however, brings new challenges for university police departments and campus security teams to ensure the continued safety of students and staff. Universities face greater pressure than ever to ramp up their protocols, opening new arenas for modern, automated technologies to inspire new thinking among school officials. Additionally, as the lines between campus and city jurisdictions blur, each respective police department can capitalize on technological innovation to drive improved communication.

With the new year approaching, now is a great time for university and city police and response teams to explore new technology-powered approaches that will lead to better information sharing, collaboration, and protection for students and staff.

Technology: The New Campus Crime Fighter

In 2015, more than 27,500 on-campus incidents against persons and property were reported at two- and four-year post-secondary institutions, up two percent from the preceding year. The rise in incident volume not only indicates that criminals are becoming savvier but also openly exploiting vulnerabilities in campus security.

The modern campus features numerous buildings and multiple, often unsecured entry and exit points, creating more options for individuals with malicious intent and making it more difficult for officers to stay one step ahead. The lack of depth on campus police rosters creates unsustainable ratios as wide as 1.8 officers for every 1,000 students, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates. Tasked with covering more ground and protecting a burgeoning student body, it’s typical for campus safety teams to feel overwhelmed and undermanned.

With growth continuing to strain safety resources, modern technology can help campus police overcome staffing and compensation gaps and improve efficiency. Today’s most innovative schools and police departments already are putting technology to practical use in three effective avenues, and inviting other forward-thinking educational decision-makers to follow suit.

Accelerated Active Shooter Response

An active shooter situation is every university’s worst nightmare and one that officials have had to prepare for in the wake of a host of prominent incidents during recent years. 

When gunfire breaks out on campus, every second makes a difference in bringing the situation under control and saving student and staff lives. Valuable time is lost when responders have to wait for an individual on-site to call and report the incident, and then process the information before dispatching officers and responders. Often, dispatched police also are crunched to evaluate situation dynamics on-site and make critical decisions, such as whether to immediately address the threat or assist injured victims as they flee the scene.

In response, a host of schools are implementing facility-wide gunshot detection sensor technologies with integrated 911 call automation. Should gunfire occur, these sensors use acoustic and infrared technologies to identify and distinguish the shot. Upon detection, the systems automatically post the incident to connected Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) platforms, which then immediately request dispatch without requiring human intervention. This real-time communication brings emergency personnel to the scene faster and allows officers to stabilize and address the situation.

Furthermore, these sense-and-respond technologies offer valuable situational information. The sensors alert officers to the location and frequency of detected gunshots and allow for a smarter and faster entry to campus and devotion of attention to response priorities.

Seamless, Centralized Record Sharing

Crime, unfortunately, does not stay in one place, especially across sprawling campuses that toe – or cross – city lines. A 2017 James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal report notes that the majority of all student-involved violent crimes occur off campus, and outside of the scope of campus administrators and public safety officers.

In their efforts to build safer communities, campus and local officials need more efficient avenues to exchange data and coordinate response. Information sharing and communication are vital to respond to – or even prevent – criminal activity on campus, and the integration of more centralized, real-time platforms can negate data silos and ensure that local and school law enforcement and responders can take quick, clear action.

A shared records management system (RMS) can conveniently house vital information and provide detailed analytics about individuals who pose a threat to public safety – both new and transfer students with troubled histories and non-students who look to prey on their collegiate neighbors. Armed with a wider range of details about an individual’s comprehensive criminal and activity histories, city and campus officers can work together to make smarter, data-driven decisions and potentially prevent crimes before they can take place.

Smart Patrolling

In-depth records sharing and automated data access additionally enable both city and campus police departments to better allocate resources and manage their community presence to reduce the reach and frequency of criminal behavior.

Automated software, combined with artificial intelligence, leverages specialized algorithms to track criminal patterns and identify trends that can predict future activity, and many campus and local police departments already review this information to gauge patrol priorities. However, through advanced machine learning, city and campus police teams can track trends and recommend hour-by-hour patrol priorities based on the likelihood of an incident.

For instance, if multiple students report car break-ins on a specific street during a given hour, police chiefs can work together to expand their teams’ presence in the area during that window. Local and campus police teams also can leverage data to anticipate positioning and staffing needs before, during and after large-scale campus events, ranging from football games to political and social protests and religious gatherings.

Beyond anticipating criminal activity, data-driven patrolling allows officers to proactively identify and engage potentially volatile students and local residents. Campus and local officers can work with school administrators, academic advisors, housing officials to highlight campus trends and note individuals who either exhibit frequent illicit behavior or a likelihood to take retaliatory action. Once red flags appear, officers can seek them out and hold conversations that emphasize the potential consequences of violent behavior.

Criminal deterrence data also extends beyond tables and charts. By augmenting existing systems with advanced video surveillance and facial recognition technology, officers can more quickly identify offenders, antagonists, victims, and habitual trouble-makers.

Educating for the Future

It’s unreasonable to expect that campus and city police departments will ever fully eliminate crime from universities and surrounding communities. However, through enhanced technologies that offer more thorough, real-time visibility and streamline time-consuming operational processes, these public safety officials can enjoy smoother collaboration that translates to a faster and more efficient response.

Digital innovation can help both departments overcome resource and staffing gaps and take every possible measure to ensure the safety of students and employees, all the while building a stronger relationship between campuses and neighboring communities. 

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