Students, who often do not understand their rights during encounters with campus police and campus security, “have the same rights as anywhere else,” said University of Rhode Island Director of Public Safety Stephen Baker.
Officers need to be convinced and have probable cause to stop someone and search them in any event. Probable cause can include seeing or smelling something suspicious, and officers may ask to look inside a bag or their pockets, but the student does have the power to decline the search.
By clearly stating that “I do not consent to searches” the officer cannot legally search the person. The only required action that students must comply with is to show their campus ID when an officer asks. The only other instance where this rule does not apply is during an arrest, where officers do have the right to search without consent or a warrant, said Baker.
However, campus security officers cannot perform arrests, Baker said. The primary difference between the groups is that campus police officers have undergone training through the police academy and are held to all the same codes as local or state police. Campus security officers do have the power to detain uncooperative students, but “they cannot search you. They have the same power as any other citizen,” said Baker.
Campus security officers have different jobs than campus police, he said. “They assist with patrolling parking lots, and helping people who have been locked out of their cars. Campus security goes and locks all the academic buildings at night, and responds to the blue light pedestrian assists and are a part of the safe ride program on campus.”
Baker advises students to remain calm during any incident with a police officer or campus security member.
“If they ask, just show them your hands to show you aren’t carrying any weapons, and it will put everyone at ease,” he says, adding that, “The way the law is written, it is illegal to resist arrest even if it is an illegal arrest. Just comply with the officer and get their badge number, then file a complaint.”
If a student feels they have been wrongly searched or detained, or was not satisfied with the way an altercation was handled, Baker encourages them to file a formal complaint with the Department of Public Safety. Students should call and ask to speak with the police supervisor, and explain the situation they were involved in.
The majority of these complaints can be handled by the supervisor, he said, but if the student is still not satisfied, they may file a written complaint online through the department’s website where someone in the Internal Affairs division will investigate the claim.
Baker adds that these complaints have occurred in recent years, with only five formal complaints filed since the start of this calendar year, which “range from conduct, to abusive language, to violation of department rules,” Baker said.
He asks that in the event of a search, students give the officers the benefit of the doubt.
“There could be a number of different factors involved, like crimes that they are investigating that you aren’t aware of. Officers may have certain descriptions they are looking for associated with an investigation,” he said, adding that if someone fits the profile they are looking for, officers will likely “pat down first and think later.”
“Everyone comes from different experiences with law enforcement,” Baker said. “We are here to protect the students, faculty and staff. Police do make mistakes though, they’re human.”