(NaturalNews) Tens of millions of Americans have been noticing that local police and sheriff's departments have become more and more militarized over the past decade - a period following the most horrific terrorist attack ever committed on U.S. soil.
In many respects, that attack ended our age of innocence, so to speak; never again would Americans view themselves as ultimately safe from the kind of havoc that we witness daily in foreign lands. So some additional "beefing up" of police was understandable.
But when a growing number of departments began routinely fielding vehicles and gear that once served soldiers on the battlefield - far and away more gear than was realistically needed to combat potential terrorism - alarms began sounding. And now, even more red flags are going up over the growing power, influence and militarization of police on the nation's college campuses, as reported by the University Herald:
Already considered an actual police force on the campuses they patrol, college departments are becoming more and more empowered, a trend that does not seem to be slowing.
According to the Associated Press, many colleges and universities say strict campus jurisdictions are becoming increasingly arbitrary. This has led to several campus police departments expanding their limits to neighboring towns, including areas with off-campus housing buildings.
'It used to be we were responsible for the campus'
Naturally, the expansion of authority off-campus has supporters - and critics. Proponents say it is good, because it allows colleges to keep a closer watch on students whose behavior off-campus is less than desirable, which then makes it easier to refer them for disciplinary actions and proceedings. The expanded scope also gives college cops more flexibility to investigate crimes committed on campus by citizens and members of the surrounding community, thereby easing the workload of increasingly cash-strapped local municipal departments.
"It used to be we were responsible for the campus. Now there's an expectation, I think, especially with parents, but to a large extent among students, that we're also responsible for these areas off campus," Jeff Corcoran, interim chief of the University of Cincinnati police force, whose officers patrol areas near the school, told The Associated Press. "We're getting pushed to ignore those imaginary lines on the map and be more proactive in that area."
But the expanded territory - and scope of authority - for university police has generated some concerns in the nation's capital, where residents are complaining that campus cops do not have the same level of training or transparency requirements as D.C. Metro police. In Washington, campus officers have arrest powers while on campus; however, they attend a shorter training academy that is separate from the one which D.C. police attend.
Also, colleges are generally not required by public records laws to release some of the same information to public institutions and government agencies, making some residents concerned about accountability.
"If one of their policemen acted inappropriately, there would be hardly any recourse. We'd have no information, no follow-up," said Ken Durham, a longtime resident of Foggy Bottom, the neighborhood that surrounds George Washington University, one of several colleges considering expanded powers for campus police.
"Expanding the police powers of a university police force without some kind of clear and transparent mechanism is a really bad idea," adds Marina Streznewski, president of the Foggy Bottom Association.
Buying vehicles designed to withstand IED attacks
The larger debate over the role of campus police comes amid incidents of violence at some institutions over the past few years. That includes the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
But also, other major crimes - like that of the child sex abuse that occurred with a respected coach involved in Penn State's storied football program - are sparking consideration, as well as universities' obligations to report criminal activity under the federal Clery Act.
In addition to expanding their authority and scope, universities are beginning to expand their arsenals and gear - to include military surplus, as reported by Christopher White of the University of Missouri:
While some universities, in attempts to keep a lookout for lone-wolf shooters, have spent millions of dollars on a vast array of campus security cameras, other campuses have considerably beefed up their police force tools with urban-warfare tanks - in effect creating little armies.
Ohio State University and Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, are two such examples.
Both universities have purchased armored vehicles of the types used recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. The vehicles were designed to protect occupants from improvised explosive devices.