November 1, 2006

CUPD Police Officers Clamor for Greater Status

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Almost 16 years after Cornell “police” officers changed their name from “peace” officers, the controversy over this name change continues to be a problem. CUPD believes that despite the official change in name, they do not garner the same respect as municipal police officers, which could prove detrimental for campus safety and crime prevention.

Starting this week, contract talks between the University Council and the CUPD will highlight this issue.

Because the CUPD operates independently from the New York State Public Employees Fair Employment Act and is privately owned, many agencies do not know how to treat it.

Though the CUPD may not have access to all of the resources that municipal officers have, Kathy Zoner, squad captain of the CUPD, said, “We broaden our resources by working with any other agency if the opportunity is there.”

The CUPD recently had this opportunity to work with other law enforcement agencies when a rash of thefts occurred on campus.

Although there was a decline in the rate of burglaries and robberies in 2004 with 38 and 18 incidences, respectively, both rates surged again in 2005 to 63 burglaries and 40 robberies, according to the Office of Postsecondary Campus Security Statistics. There has also been an increase in burglaries this year, Zoner said.

But, Zoner said, “There was an increase in larcenies recently in part due to the crimes of one person, but also people not protecting their belongings.”

The CUPD has undergone several name changes over the last 50 years, but the change from “peace” officer to “police” officer is most significant.

Zoner, who worked for the then Cornell Department of Public Safety at the time of the change, said, “the name change occurred because we hoped to better identity services to our public, our community.”

According to current, Jim Morrissette, union president of CUPD, who also worked under the CUPD at the time of the transition, the former police chief initiated the transition from “peace” to “police” officers so “there would be no illusions on part of the students, faculty or staff about our role in the campus community.”

Two primary issues emerge surrounding the name change: the status of the officers and their overall perception in the community.

Zoner said, “There was a lot of controversy surrounding the name. ‘Are we really police?’ Our authorization of authority on campus has insignificant differences to any other municipal police agency.”

Though the CUPD undergoes 520 hours of service training just as New York State officers do, it does not have the same status and does not have access to such tools as the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services Pin Mapping System, sex offender registry and missing persons database.

Morrissette said, “We lose people to other agencies so they can actually have that police status and practice their profession.”

One reason that the CUPD does not hold state police officer status is related to speculation of who actually controls the department. Part of the rationale for the initial name change occurred when several groups on campus, including the University Council and Board of Trustees , felt the CUPD was overstepping its boundaries and straying from its mission to “keep the peace.”

Morrissette claims to have repeatedly called administrators over this disagreement when contract talks came up three years ago, but said they refused to talk to him.

As contract talks continue throughout the rest of the week, the status of the CUPD as state police officers will determine what resources the department will have access to in maintaining campus safety. Currently, there is a Student Assembly-endorsed document circulating around campus which calls for the CUPD to gain full-time police status. While the CUPD holds “officer” status in name, for Morrissette, the name alone is not enough and “we’ll certainly discuss this issue at the table, no question about it,” he said.