Letter to the Editor

PhD Allison Payne, PhD Brianna Remster

As faculty in the Sociology and Criminology Department, we believe it is our responsibility to offer our scholarly expertise to the community discussion about having sworn and armed police officers on campus. We write to advance the dialogue by informing the community of the established academic findings on school security. 

Social science research highlights three fundamental changes in campus climate as a result of incorporating police into secondary schools, which should inform our thinking with regard to introducing armed police to Villanova’s campus. First, aside from the ample research showing that having police officers on campuses does not reduce violence or crime in general, there is also no evidence that having campus police officers would affect response time in the extraordinarily unlikely event of an active shooter. Second, students report feeling more afraid when police officers are present than when they are not, particularly students of color. Third, the profiling of and discrimination against students of color by police officers in school settings is well documented. 

There are also important implications to consider beyond the active shooter scenario. Introducing police onto campus will change how the University responds to violations or disorder, resulting in a greater reliance on legal interventions for issues that have been treated in the past as disciplinary infractions. Thus, student behavior that is currently addressed using our campus discipline system will soon be addressed in a court of law, funneling students into the criminal justice system, which research shows will affect them far beyond their time at Villanova.

More generally, keep in mind that local and national crime rates are at historic lows. Today, we are safer than ever, both on campus and off. This is not the first time that fear of crime, which does not accurately reflect actual crime threat, has the potential to produce lasting consequences (think mass incarceration). Furthermore, experts advocate for the dissolution of campus police, not the expansion, because any form of public safety or police on campus answers to the University administration, not the criminal justice system. 

Villanova’s decision to move from a public safety department to armed, sworn officers bypasses a variety of intermediate options such as working with local law enforcement or using situational crime prevention strategies to improve safety on campus.

In closing, the scholarly criminological and sociological evidence is clear that there are substantial negative consequences inherent to introducing sworn law enforcement to academic environments, not the least of which is the fact that it may actually make those communities less safe. We hope that the members of our campus and local community consider these likely effects as well as the likelihood that this initiative would fundamentally change the community climate we all so value.