Does Private Security Have a Place on College Campuses

Does Private Security Have a Place on College Campuses?

Parents of several students at UC Berkeley hired private security guards to protect students during a surge in crime, as they were concerned that campus security was insufficient. Parents paid about $42,000 for the private security detail, consisting of six guards wearing bright yellow uniforms, to patrol around the campus on foot and bicycle for two and a half weeks. Though the private security guards were unarmed, their very presence was meant to be a crime deterrent. 

The university expressed displeasure at the presence of outside security contractors, saying parents should donate to the university itself to improve campus security. Moreover, UC Berkeley officials said that all security efforts must be coordinated with the university police department, regardless of who’s paying. 

SafeBears, the nonprofit organization founded by parents of UC Berkeley students and the one responsible for hiring private security guards, said that the response from the university to increasing crime has been inadequate. Parents hope their “pilot program” of private security guards will inspire the university to implement something similar.

Are College Campuses Safe?

The Berkeley controversy comes at a time of heightened tension in universities, some of which have become battlegrounds of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. According to a survey conducted by the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and Hillel, 73% of Jewish college students and 44% of non-Jewish students experienced or saw antisemitic incidents since the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.  

But it is not only Jewish college students who are experiencing violence. In February of this year, several murders took place across college campuses in the US. A nursing student at University of Georgia was found dead in an adjacent wooded area, a student from Campbellsville University in Kentucky was also found dead in his dorm room with another student accused of manual strangulation, while two people were shot in a dorm room at the University of Colorado.

Generally, the most common crimes on college campuses are sexual assault, burglaries, car theft, and aggravated assault. Research suggests that 1 in 10 college students is raped or sexually assaulted during their time in college. Because of this, the observed rise in murder and hate crimes is considered a significant shift and, perhaps, a growing threat on college campuses.

How Students Can Stay Safe at College

In a CBS report regarding college campus safety, S. Daniel Carter, President of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses LLC, said that a mistaken notion is that the biggest threats come from strangers. On college campuses, the biggest threats are either from people students know or from alcohol-related incidents.

He said that the best way for students to protect themselves on campus is to be aware. Toward this end, he recommends that students and parents review the annual Clery report, which includes campus safety policy, what types of police coverage and surveillance systems exist on campus, and more. He also said students should sign up for their college security app and report any suspicious activity. 

How Can Colleges Improve Campus Security?

According to Carter, campus security requires a multidisciplinary approach: student affairs, residence life, athletics, and other departments should work together to create a comprehensive approach. Additionally, colleges should have campaigns that encourage students to be aware of what’s going on around them and report suspicious behavior to either campus security or local police.

On the technical side, college security must include access control, video surveillance, emergency preparedness plans, training, and more. Colleges must also adhere to federal regulations regarding campus safety, including Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and and the Clery Act, which requires crime data disclosure

The Bottom Line

When Berkeley parents hired private security guards, the university was not happy. However, if college administrators do not implement what parents deem “sufficient” security, there will be more of a demand for private companies. Universities may not want private security encroaching on their grounds, but parents aren’t interested in turf wars or power struggles — all that interests them is their childrens’ safety.