“Are you the real police?” “No. We’re the campus police.” An examination of the way Ontario Special Constables govern risk on post-secondary campuses
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This dissertation examines the role of special constables on Ontario post-secondary campuses and where they are positioned in relation to the broad range of state and non-state law enforcement entities in Canada. Through in-depth qualitative interviews with department heads, alongside a detailed survey and focus groups with Ontario campus special constables, my research examines the everyday work and perspectives of a highly understudied group. Under neoliberal governance, there has been a growing reliance on non-state law enforcement entities to adopt roles that have traditionally been filled by police. Alongside this, we have witnessed an increasing demand for risk management due to growing private property ownership. As a result, studies that investigate the work of these groups offer important insight into their experiences and what is needed to ensure they can effectively manage risk in place of the police. Despite this, research examining the perspectives of non-state law enforcement is limited. Furthermore, there are even fewer studies on campus law enforcement and essentially no scholarly attention has been paid to those who work in this role on Canadian post-secondary campuses. This study addresses this gap by offering insight into the background, daily work, and experiences of Ontario campus special constables through a mixed methods design which allows for the production of information on a number of relevant topics from a broad range of participants. Based on my findings, I argue that much like other private policing entities, neoliberal processes have contributed to the role of special constables increasingly overlapping with that of the public police and, as a result, they play an important part in keeping campuses safe. At the same time, my study shows that this development has occurred to an even greater extent with special constables as a result of the general shift toward the professionalization of campus law enforcement, as well as the growing need to manage various risks on campus, particularly in light of increased media portrayal of serious crimes at universities and colleges. Moreover, despite the police-like work special constables are expected to perform on campus, my research indicates that, in line with the experiences of other non-state law enforcement, legitimacy challenges remain an issue. Although these issues appear to occur less often with special constables, students, staff, faculty, and other members of law enforcement are often unaware of the authority granted to special constables and in some cases, this situation has resulted in negative and escalated interactions between parties. Thus, this study contributes to this field of research by offering an explanation and potential solutions to address legitimacy challenges among private law enforcement. Consequently, I argue that institutions should increase awareness surrounding the role and authorities of special constables and that policymakers should take steps to enhance their standardization and training to improve the perception of this group as legitimate members of law enforcement. Additionally, given their ability to fully engage in the community policing model and offer institution-specific support at a lower cost (compared with municipal police), the work of special constables could be used by all post-secondary institutions across Canada to protect the campus community and ensure that all students, regardless of location, background, or school, are afforded the same level of security. This dissertation highlights the way special constables have the ability to manage both actual and perceived risk through the use of community-based policing on campus and therefore are valuable assets to the institutions that employ them. These findings have implications beyond post-secondary campuses in Ontario. They reinforce the importance of effective private law enforcement entities in a time of reduced state involvement under neoliberal governance and high demand for risk management among members of the public as well as the need for further research to ensure optimal performance and public acceptance of them.
Cite this version of the work
Katie Cook (2021). “Are you the real police?” “No. We’re the campus police.” An examination of the way Ontario Special Constables govern risk on post-secondary campuses. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17105
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