Police Discipline at Eastern State University

By Wilson, Shirley A.; Wilson, Charles P. | Journal of Critical Incidents, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Police Discipline at Eastern State University


Wilson, Shirley A., Wilson, Charles P., Journal of Critical Incidents


Introduction

As the head of the Human Resources department stated that he was ready to issue his ruling, John Franks wondered about his fate. As a career police officer with over 35 years of law enforcement experience, John never imagined that he would be brought up on departmental charges for unprofessional conduct. He had always performed his job in an ethical manner with a high degree of professionalism. In fact, during his fifteen years as a member of the Eastern State University Police Department (ESUPD), he had received very few complaints and had never been brought up on charges of any kind. Yet, here he sat at the conclusion of a disciplinary hearing waiting to learn his fate.

John joined ESUPD after serving 20 years with the Capital City Metropolitan Police. Now in his fifteenth year with Eastern State, he was currently a senior patrol officer assigned to the day shift.

Department Background

The Eastern State University Police Department served a four-year public institution of higher education with close to 12,000 faculty, staff and students and was located not far from the state capitol. It had been cited as being one of the safest college campuses in the area.

The police department, with its 21 members, was responsible for providing round-the-clock public safety services, including crime prevention, suppression, and investigation to the campus community. Because of their statutory authority as outlined in the General Laws of the State, ESUPD was considered a full service law enforcement agency, with officers having police authority on all college property, and were the primary first responders. Typical types of activities were responding to burglar and panic alarms, suspicious persons and vehicles, thefts, vandalism and disorderly conduct, conducted criminal investigations and handled traffic violations of all types. However, because of the language in state law, which granted them their law enforcement authority, and current refusals by the university to consider this method of professional enhancement, ESUPD officers were prohibited from carrying firearms while on duty.

Due to the University's method of hiring police officers, all ESUPD police were required to have been previously employed by a municipal police department. As a result, all ESUPD officers had a broad range of experience in law enforcement with several having previously served as police supervisors, detectives, or administrators.

The ESUPD, like most other law enforcement agencies, used a paramilitary structure with a clear chain of command. The department, comprised of 21 officers, was headed by a chief of police who also served as the university's director of safety and security. The chief was assisted by a deputy chief/assistant director. Both positions were considered as management-level positions and were appointed by the president of the college. All other positions within the department, from patrol officer through captain, were represented by an employee union that also represented non-police employees at the university.

However, unlike other police agencies, ESUPD did not have a formalized set of rules and regulations which defined the policies and procedures that officers were expected to operate under, thus department administrators expected officers to perform based on its expectations of officer knowledge and experience from their former positions with various municipal police agencies from the surrounding area. Therefore, disciplinary actions taken against members of the department were meted out by the college's Human Resources Department. This process did not appear to take into consideration the tasks, skills, and circumstances which were unique to their role as police officers and had caused great concern among the members of ESUPD. Police discipline at ESU relied upon the constraints of the labor agreement covering all state employees. This contract provided for a tiered progression of discipline beginning with a verbal warning, then written warning, then suspension, and finally termination. …

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