Blue Line


October 22, 2015  By Gregory Lawson

1030 words – MR


It is time to holster up campus police

by Gregory Lawson


Special constables must be armed with the proper tools to protect not only themselves but the people they have sworn to serve.

One need look no further for justification than the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo by a deranged “lone wolf” attacker and the myriad of on-campus shootings across the United States. A clear precedent has been set through the arming of security personnel on Parliament Hill.

In much of Canada the legislation is already in place. Campus police are special constables and are essentially law enforcement officers. According to Section 8 of the Ontario Police Service Act, which may reflect other provincial police service acts, a director may appoint an individual or class of individuals as a special constable to any jurisdictional territory with the terms and conditions imposed within the appointment. <1>

A special constable holds the status of peace officer and has the powers and protection of a peace officer when carrying out the duties and responsibilities of their appointment. <2.0>

This being said, a special constable appointed as campus police to a university or other institution has the duties of a regular police constable employed by a municipality or province. All but three provinces – British Colombia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland – have sworn special constables working on university campuses providing safety and security. <2.1>

Ontario has the largest concentration of universities and the most employing special constables. <4> Special constables are appointed by the Minister of Public Safety and Corrections or the municipal police board/police service. <2.2>.

Special constables perform specialized security functions, deploy safety programs and investigate misconduct on campuses. These specialized functions involve enforcing specific federal, provincial and municipal acts. Special constables act as a liaison between the campus community and local police. <2.3>

Special constables work with the public, responding to calls for service where there is an element of the unknown and the potential for situations to quickly escalate, just as with regular police officers. They have to make split second decisions on how to react and respond to dynamic situations.

Terrorist organizations have called on insurgents to attack and execute police officers and government officials, preferably on the streets or in front of their families. according to documents recently released by the RCMP. They are instructed to post video of these attacks online to instill terror in the community and make residents feel unsafe.

Some Ontario police chiefs have publicly voiced their misgivings about supporting special constable programs, fearing they may encroach on municipal police services. Some police officers believe these services may threaten their jobs.

Universities employ special constables because they are just that, special. They are not only trained as a regular police constable but receive an extensive amount of special training on university policy, procedures and codes of conduct.

Ontario campus police services receive some 8,000 calls for service each year, ranging from simple assistance calls to complex investigations. <3>

Western University has approximately 29,000 registered students, 1,500 full time faculty and 2,500 full time staff. Roadways are open to the public and are used as a main London thoroughfare. Approximately 30,000 cars travel through the university each day. <4>

Western campus police handle many calls which would otherwise have to be fielded by the London Police Service (LPS). The two services have an agreement which allows special constables to operate within the city. Special constables provide the same service as a LPS constable and are expected to respond to a crisis. All reports of criminal activity are subsequently reported to LPS using the campus police records management system.

Campus special police constables are currently equipped with body armour, handcuffs, batons and OC spray but no Tasers or firearms. Constables are very familiar with the inner workings and labyrinths of buildings and underground tunnels within each university property, which can be quite complex to navigate.
Some buildings house specialized equipment and even radioactive material.

Thousands of university students live on campus at residences, townhomes and apartment buildings. Currently a call for an armed person or active shooter on campus or residence would go to the local police service, which would not have a detailed knowledge of the area and would need guidance and direction to the specific location. They would also not have access to buildings.

Time would be of the essence. Current police procedure expects the first officer on scene to engage and neutralize the threat. Would an unarmed special constable be expected to provide the escort?

Students from more than 100 countries attend Canadian universities, which gives institutions a wonderful opportunity to learn from many different cultures – but also opens them up to threats. Terrorist groups like ISIS are known for targeting and trying to radicalize young Muslims and universities are fertile ground for both recruiting and targets.

We are all too familiar with mass killings in schools. Unlike Canada, the United States has taken steps to protect its institutions by arming its campus police. Canada does not have any armed campus police.

Given the threats they face, Canadian special constables need to be armed with the proper tools to perform their duties and protect the people they are sworn to serve. Student safety needs to be a priority. Let’s take proactive steps instead of waiting for something horrible to happen.

One of the biggest issues with arming campus police is oversight and liability. Currently special constables do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Special Investigation Unit. Alleged misconduct is investigated by the professional standards unit of the local police service. Special constables cannot be charged under the police service act, which gives them powers in the first place.

Special constables need to be held to the same standard of accountability as regular police constables. Waiting for something to happen is the wrong approach. The risks from not taking steps to prevent attacks or not being able to respond appropriately in a timing fashion are much greater than giving special constables the tools they need to properly do their jobs.


  2. Constable Report.pdf

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