University Police: Real Gun, Plastic Badge

Justice is a hard thing to define at a time like this.

Some say justice wasn’t served when, after more than a decade of alleged child abuse, Jerry Sandusky’s misconduct was never formally reported to police. Some say justice wasn’t served when District Judge Leslie Dutchcot released Sandusky on unsecured $100,000 bail despite disturbing admissions of “horsing around” in Penn State locker rooms with a 10-year-old boy. Some even say justice wasn’t served when Assistant Coach Mike McQueary witnessed firsthand Sandusky’s misconduct yet, according to the grand jury report, walked away instead of stopping it immediately.

The Penn State community is full of questions about justice right now and those who are supposed to be bearing the standard of morality are hiding behind the phrase “no comment.” But what most of us forget is that this scandal was taking place right under the nose of the fully functional law enforcement agency of Penn State University Police.

A formal report was never more than a 15-minute walk away from any of the campus facilities Sandusky’s misconduct allegedly took place at. Tucked into the Eisenhower Parking complex is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year force of 52 active duty police officers with the state status of any other Pennsylvania law enforcement agency. Rent-a-cops, they’re not.

Officers in the University Police department are all fully-trained law enforcers with degrees from accredited universities across the nation–some even have supplementary FBI training under their belts. They respond in assistance with local agencies in situations ranging from local investigations to last Wednesday night’s downtown riots. They have patrol cars, motorcycles, a K-9 unit, weaponry and the sworn-in responsibility to protect and serve the citizens of all university owned, managed and leased properties.

Despite all of the resources and authority of the University Police, an alleged child sex abuse scandal was given more than a decade to thrive within the legal jurisdiction of the agency. Sandusky’s actions went without repercussions greater than his keys to the locker rooms being taken away. Due to the understandable silence of witnesses, his justice is long overdue.

Though the University Police Agency is equal to any other Commonwealth agency, it has come into question whether they acted in the same way as an independent station would under these circumstances. With the ties to Penn State, did the University Police put the image of the institution before their pledge to serve and protect?

The University Police have one major difference from other Commonwealth agencies — supervision. Municipal police departments are overseen by a chief of police, a position appointed by a popularly elected mayor. However, University Police are not supervised the same democratic system. They report to administrators like former Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Schultz… who is at the moment being charged with perjury.

For University Police, it isn’t a “citizen” keeping the law enforcement apparatus in check. Rather, Penn State’s agency reports to a business-oriented leadership that tacks justice on their job description alongside optimizing profit.

From 2007-2009, University Police responded to 969 reports of liquor law and drug law violations just on campus. However, they took no significant action that we know of against a legendary coach allegedly abusing young children on university property. They spend time and resources placing undercover cops at tailgates and on informants trying to buy eighths at frat parties, but it took years for rumors and relayed witness accounts to become a formal report in an office that many pass by everyday.

The conflict of interests — money over morality — may be a unique obstacle to the University Police Department. Though both local and campus departments have the badge and dark aviators, they don’t have the same accountability to those they protect. This lack of checks and balances needs to be addressed as changes come to Penn State. Let us know what you think in the comments.

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