November 18, 2004

Examining the Power Behind Examining the Power Behind Cornell's Police Department

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Scared of getting J.A.’d? According to New York law, sending a student to the judicial administrator is one of the powers enumerated to CUPD officers, but the campus police may not have as much power as you think.

The officials in charge of campus safety are not police officers, but rather, “peace officers.”

The difference in title prevents the officers of the CUPD from either serving or executing arrest or search warrants. These limitations have led to some discussion as to the legality of so-called “Terry stops” — when an office pats down someone, in public — and the engaging in pursuits by peace officers, but Lt. Michael Musci of the CUPD says that these are “misconceptions.”

“Our legal council has given us the green light on both Terry stops and engaging in active pursuits,” Musci said.

Section 2.2 of New York criminal procedure law lists the powers of peace officers, including the ability to possess and take custody of firearms, to make warantless arrests, and to make warantless searches wherever constitutionally permissible.

CUPD requires that all officers undergo the full 510 hours required to become a police officer rather than the 35 hours required to become a peace officer or the 82 required to be come a peace officer with firearms training.

Some feel that the less-than-police-officer-standing is problematic. LEMAP, a committee of exterior consultants from other college campuses around the country put together a report last spring recommending that members of the CUPD get the status bump to “police officer.”

The LEMAP committee pointed out that “the officers carry out the same mandate as their municipal counterparts and take the same risks.”

Another problem mentioned by the committee was that “the ‘less than police officer’ status of the CUPD prevents it from having direct access to some state and national law enforcement databases.”

Regardless of these limitations, however, “I wouldn’t say we’ve got to change our status,” Musci said, “we build relationships with surrounding agencies [which have full police status].”

An example of the close relationship between campus safety and nearby police departments can be seen during orientation week, when the Ithaca Police Department and CUPD work in joint force to regulate the crowds in Collegetown.

Deputy University Counsel Nelson E. Roth pointed to New York state law as the reason for labeling the CUPD peace officers. “The powers and duties of the Cornell University Police are established by section 2.1 of New York Criminal Procedure Law,” Roth said.

Other than the law, the problems associated with changing from the designation peace officer to police officer were specified in the LEMAP recommendation. “Would such a move endanger Cornell’s standing as a private university in other matters? Would the campus community support a change in status? What would the added authority mean in terms of added liability exposure?” wrote Sgt. Lin Hurd, chair of the LEMAP committee.

Students do not feel that CUPD officers need police status.

“It seems like they have no difficulty securing the campus using the authority they currently have,” said Rita Mizrahi ’07.

The issue is one that is under constant consideration: “we continually assess the needs of our department and the needs of the university,” Musci concluded.

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun Senior Writer