If your child is going away to college this fall, they’ll likely be experiencing a degree of independence and freedom they’ve never had before. You can only trust that they have the judgment and common sense to make good decisions when faced with temptations and opportunities to get into trouble.
You hope they won’t have any encounters with campus police – either as a victim of a crime or as a suspect. If you haven’t already, though, it’s a good idea to make sure you talk to them about their legal rights. Just because they’ve grown up watching Law & Order, that doesn’t mean they understand what’s in their best interests when dealing with police.
Don’t underestimate the authority of campus police
Too often, college students don’t take campus police seriously. They may not consider them “real” cops. At some colleges they aren’t. They may be private security guards. However, that doesn’t mean students should be disrespectful to or dismissive of them. There may be school policies regarding dealing with these officers, and they likely work closely with local law enforcement agencies.
Many large campuses, like the University of Colorado Boulder, have their own police departments. Officers from CU Boulder’s police department are out in patrol cars, motorcycles, bikes and on foot, responding to some 20,000 calls every year.
Constitutional rights vs. university policy
College students, like anyone else, have a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent if questioned by a campus police officer. They might face disciplinary action by the school, however, if they don’t cooperate. The same is true regarding searches. They have a Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures. However, they could potentially face disciplinary action for refusing.
When it comes to searches of dorm rooms, the school’s policy should be detailed in their housing agreement. While schools will often allow employees, such as maintenance workers, to enter and inspect rooms that are part of university housing, that doesn’t mean that any campus or other law enforcement officer can enter and search a room without a warrant or exigent circumstances like someone being in danger.
It’s good for new college students to understand their rights and responsibilities both under school policy and the law. This can help keep them out of serious legal jeopardy and help them better handle the situation if they do run into trouble.