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Policing at ASU: How campus and local police combat concerns on campus

Students and faculty share their concerns for safety and security on ASU campuses and what law enforcement does to make sure crime is mitigated


Civic Space Park entrance sign is pictured in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

ASU security across campuses is a necessity when making sure students are safe and secure, but the worries students face living in metropolitan cities are unavoidable.

A recent clery report released in early October showed an increase in crime across all campuses from 1,516 in 2021 to 1,799 in 2022. Trends like aggregate crimes – which include criminal offenses, Violence Against Women Act offenses, and arrests and referrals related to drugs, alcohol and weapons – went up 19%.

Recent events on the Downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses such as nearby shootings and protests have brought ASU PD back to the forefront of conversations surrounding safety and security for the University community. 

READ MORE: Clery Report: Overall crime, referrals decreased on all Valley campuses except Tempe in 2022

Adam Wolfe, ASU PD's police information officer, said that while crime was more centered around catalytic converter thefts a few years ago, the types of crime seen by the department have changed in recent years.

"Now we're not seeing as much (of) that, we're seeing different crimes come up and then some will go down. Crimes in general tend to have sort of a flow," Wolfe said.

In addition, crimes are not always committed by a member of the University. Off-campus crime that extends into University boundaries means that ASU PD sometimes has to intervene in situations from the surrounding Tempe and Downtown Phoenix areas, according to Wolfe.

Through intricate policing strategy tailored to a college community and collaboration with local law enforcement, the University police department handles everything from personal property theft to gun violence on and near campus.

The development of ASU PD

Wolfe oversees communication between the public and ASU PD and provides transparency on how they operate and what their duties are. 

Law enforcement programs specifically dedicated to universities are extremely common in the U.S. Part of the move towards increased campus security was inspired by the 1990 Clery Act, a law that requires universities to give students, parents and faculty accurate information on public safety procedures and reports of criminal activity.

"Universities all over the United States have to decide: How are they going to keep their campuses safe?" said Michael Scott, a professor at the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice. "And one of the issues they all have to try to solve is: Can we have our own security force, and if we are, is it going to be a fully sworn police force?"

Scott is the director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a library of resources where police can research solutions to specific public safety problems.

In 1948, only ten non-sworn patrolmen served the area. Now, ASU law enforcement consists of 150 full-time staff from both sworn and civilian sides of public safety, according to a video from the department.

Jurisdictional overlaps

Jurisdiction plays an essential part in how law enforcement operates in the Valley between both ASU PD and local law enforcement, but there is room for leniency in cases of urgency. 

ASU PD's mission is to respond to campus-related issues, but crime occurring on places near campus sometimes blurs the line of which department responds to what, Scott said.

"And that's true throughout campuses," Scott said. "So it means that we want the agency that's primarily responsible for that piece of territory to be the one enforcing the laws."

Nevertheless, ASU PD will still respond to incidents outside of their jurisdiction if they're near the scene, usually with a response time of 30 seconds or less but two minutes at most, according to Wolf.

READ MORE: Tempe has appointed a new police chief

"I think that you should always be self-aware that there are other individuals out there and you don't know what could happen to you," Manli Wu, a senior studying medical sciences, said.

This jurisdictional overlap works both ways. Phoenix law enforcement will also respond to ASU-related issues if ASU PD is not present in time, even if it is not in their assigned policing area.

"If an ASU officer is not quickly available, then what they'll do is they'll reach out to Phoenix police to be that first officer on scene to make sure everything is safe immediately," said Sgt. Brian Bower from the public affairs bureau of the Phoenix Police Department. 

Phoenix police will start the initial investigation if they are first on the scene, and then work with ASU PD to share information, Bower said. 

"Even if that property may be in the jurisdiction and control of ASU PD, we still have a lot of officers in the Downtown Phoenix area," Bower said. "With so (much) police presence on the Phoenix side, just the police presence patrolling the area is enough (to) quell and prevent a lot of crime from happening."

Coexistence between both departments is essential to keeping students safe and secure in dangerous situations.

"Our cooperation is key for successful policing and community safety," Bower said.

Safety at the Downtown Phoenix campus

The Downtown Phoenix campus' metropolitan location means that the University community faces unique challenges compared to a more integrated University campus like Tempe.

Wu said she has had friends who have had things thrown at them while walking through less frequented areas like Civic Space Park.

"If you see something that could be a potential danger, just walk a little further from it," Wu said. "These are just things that you can do yourself as an individual."

Civic Space Park is a very common area for people experiencing homelessness to walk around, especially in light of the recent removal of tents and makeshift structures in the Human Services Campus known as “The Zone."

Although those experiencing homelessness in the park may make some students feel threatened, especially at night, Scott said that most are not posing any real threat and students should always be alert of their surroundings in general. 

“They're not doing anything other than maybe asking for money, which some students might find intimidating, but it's relatively innocuous," Scott said. "We just say to students, just be aware, be aware of your surroundings, and that's going to include things like, try not to walk alone at night."

ASU PD and Civic Space Park have a complex relationship. While it is not in their jurisdiction, it is in between the Fusion on First building and University Center. The Student Center @ the Post Office also shares land with the park, so students walk the park every hour of the day, whether they're going to the Sun Devil Fitness Center or for classes in Fusion.

"Civic Space Park is a complicated area, because technically it's Phoenix jurisdiction, but ASU police does keep a presence there because we have our community going through it constantly," Wolfe said.

Scott said that even in University Center – a building where his classes take place and that keeps its doors locked to those without a University ID –  people will still find a way to enter because many students will hold the door open out of courtesy. Wu shared the same concern.

"The fundamental challenge with universities, especially one of the main features of the university, is supposed to be its openness," Scott said. "We want faculty, staff and students to feel like they’re not in a fortress. And at the same time, there’s just challenges for the university to design the campus in a way that doesn't make it look or feel like a fortress but keeps it safe and secure."

ASU PD is a 24/7 dispatch center students can contact that answers 911 calls for all four campuses. It is a dual-accredited law enforcement agency, earning an accreditation in 1997 and another in 2016, according to the ASU Police webpage.

"Bad things can happen and do happen in otherwise normally very safe places," Scott said. "So you don't want to terrify students obviously, but you want them to be vigilant (and be) taking appropriate precautions no matter where they are."

Edited by Grey Gartin, Sadie Buggle and Angelina Steel.

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