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Campus law enforcements offer uneven punishments

Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 7, 2012 22:10

At the University of South Alabama (USA) a student, who was naked and charging at an officer outside the police station, was shot in the chest and killed Saturday morning by the officer on duty.

Though it remains unclear why Gilbert Collar was shot rather than detained or subdued in some nonlethal way, the incident raises questions about the severity of punishment employed for crimes committed on university campuses and highlights the importance of trust between students and campus police forces.

At USF, the University Police states on its website that a police officer will “only use the amount of force necessary to affect the arrest of a suspect,” and that “excessive force is not tolerated by the Department.”

The USA police officer should have considered this adage Saturday morning when weighing his options.

When comparing this shooting with student punishment procedures at USF, which go through the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the level of penalty for differing actions seems extremely polarized.

For example, students violating offense 4.11 of the USF Student Code of Conduct, “Threats of Violence,” or offense 4.15, “Misuse or Possession of Illegal Drugs,” may not be sent straight to jail — or shot, for that matter — as his or her counterpart outside of the university community and under local police jurisdiction might.

Instead, students often go through a conduct process that decides an appropriate sanction, which can range from a warning letter to a written assignment, community service, fine, or in extreme cases, expulsion from the university. Counseling is also available.

This process allows college students, who are adults but still learning how to handle themselves as such, to be punished in a constructive manner while allowing them to continue schooling.

This certainly does not mean that arrests are not made on campus for illegal activity. But the use of excessive force upon the student population is an unnecessary addition to the campus police system that should not be utilized except in extreme cases. It only breeds distrust among students of those who are there to protect them.

At the University of California (UC) at Davis, 21 students will receive $30,000 each in damages, along with a formal apology from UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, after an officer pepper-sprayed them following an “otherwise peaceful protest,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The incident went viral through a video posted online, and according to Fatima Sbeih, a graduate of UC Davis who was among those pepper sprayed, “students have been afraid of the police” since the incident.

Events between students and university police officers that put students in danger should not be tolerated and are unnecessary for keeping students in control and law-abiding on college campuses. Further, the range between this excessive force and punishment for crimes committed on campus that are more lenient than equivalent off-campus crime ramifications is too polarized, and schools should seek middle ground when deciding how to sanction students.

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