Our research originated after the Ferguson, Missouri shooting and riots. The footage recorded by both residents and news crews showed the local police of this small town wearing gear, using weaponry, and driving vehicles one would only imagine belonging in a war zone. (Snowiss)
We set out to discover how a local police force, protecting a small town of twenty-one thousand residents could purchase, pay for, and protect military grade weaponry.
Our initial investigations led us closer to home than we expected. We began to study the police forces most often overlooked but central to our lives, campus police. Every college campus of substantial size employs a police force to patrol their campuses and ensure the safety of their students. A college environment can be a dangerous place considering the large influx of young and developing students with newly acquired freedoms, independence, and reduced surveillance. No doubt the levels of crime that naturally permeate society would also manifest on college campuses, potentially to a higher extent due to the risk of intoxication.
Notwithstanding the crimes at risk of occurring on college campuses, instances of police brutality, although uncommon, are still a concern. Specifically, a response to an Occupy Wall Street movement on the campus of the University of California-Davis in 2011 indicates why this issue could potentially be concerning in terms of the dangers police forces could pose with high levels of weaponry. In this case, various eyewitnesses testify that the students were protesting there rather peacefully, albeit some sources admit there were harsh and loud criticisms being shouted in the direction of the police. (Cherkis) The police responded with pepper spray, after warning the students multiple times to leave; in total nine students and one non-student were arrested, and two police officers involved were placed on administrative leave.
This event is not isolated, and is only one example of a trend of increasing police brutality, even though 2014 showed the lowest civilian crime rate since the 1970’s. (Vibes) It is reasonable to assume that the possession of high levels of military weaponry by local police forces would give campus police the capability to inflict even greater harm if their authority is then used incorrectly or excessively. In relation to our research project, this incident raises the question of whether increased armament on college campuses today would increase the level of risk associated with possible events of police brutality.
But how far does campus police power currently extend? And furthermore, what does the inflation of small police forces in largely controlled settings have to say about our culture at large? These among others are questions we will explore in our research.
Cherkis, Jason. The Huffington Post. 2011. “UC Davis Police Pepper-Spray Seated Students In Occupy Dispute.” Nov. 20: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/19/uc-davis-police-pepper-spray-students_n_1102728.html
Snowiss, Mark. “Ferguson Riots Underscore Police Militarization in US.”VOA. Voice of America, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Vibes, John. “FBI Report: Americans Less Violent than Ever, Except for Police.” The Free Though Project. N.p., 12 Nov. 2014. Web.