As the N.C. Supreme Court considers a case that could invalidate the powers of Davidson College's police force, officials contend the department is necessary for responding to crime and preventing it through educational programming.
"There's a tremendous amount of non-response-driven work that we do," said Davidson College Police Chief Adrienne Murray, who started working at the department in fall 2010. "Response is just a fractional piece of what we do."
The N.C. Supreme Court heard arguments for the case that calls into question the powers of campus police on March 15.
The case, State vs. Yencer, arose from a 2006 incident in which a Davidson College campus police officer stopped Julie Yencer while she was driving on a road close to campus. Yencer was not a student.
Although Yencer pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, her lawyer later argued the campus police should not have arresting authority given the college's affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
At its core, the case addresses the separation of church and state. It questions whether the N.C. General Assembly can delegate authority through the attorney general to campus police at colleges affiliated with churches.
Although Davidson College is not a party in the case, the college did file a friend of the court brief, which noted that the church does not play any role in admissions, hiring, law enforcement or curriculum decisions at the college.
"The actions of the police department aren't influenced by the Presbyterian Church," added college spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel. "They don't get any Presbyterian-specific police training. They receive the same training every officer in the state receives."
In its brief, the college hinted at further litigation should the N.C. Supreme Court not reverse the decision made by the appeals court last summer.
In August, that three-judge panel ruled the college does not have law enforcement authority since Davidson is a religious school. The panel cited similar rulings on cases involving Campbell and Pfeiffer Universities in its decision.
Davidson formed its campus police department in 1978, after the college stopped using town police services. The college employs eight full-time sworn officers, 14 part-timers and the campus police chief.
"Primarily, we're there to support their department. If they need us or don't have resources available, we're there to help," said Davidson town Police Detective Steve Ingram. "For the most part, however, they are their own independent and full-functioning agency."
In the last three years, violent crime rates have remained relatively low on the campus, according to a 2009 security and fire safety report from the college. For instance, there was one reported incident of aggravated assault and two reported incidents of forcible sex offenses in 2009 - which are similar to rates seen in 2007.
Referrals for liquor law violations dropped from 144 to 87 between 2008 and 2009.
Reported incidents of other crime types, however, have risen in recent years, according to the same report. There were 14 reports of burglary in 2009, compared with none in 2007. In addition, there were 10 referrals for drug law violations in 2009, compared with 2 in 2007.
Murray said her department doesn't evaluate itself based solely on crime statistics, especially given some recent changes in how the federal government expects police to measure crime.
The department also considers anecdotal evidence that the police department has formed positive relationships with students in order to encourage crime reporting, she said.
"The goal of our department is mitigating offenses," said Murray. "Whereas many municipalities have to be response driven and quite frankly keep up with call volume, we're very pleased that we don't have to be that way."
In fact, the majority of police officer time goes toward proactive programming around campus that addresses topics such as sexual assault and state laws.
"You can tell they want to keep the lines of communication open with the student body," said Davidson junior Andrew Linville, 20.
It's unclear what role the department would play if the court rules with the appeals panel.
If the court revokes the campus department's authority, Murray said the transition will not be as easy as simply dispatching campus calls to the Davidson Police Department.
"[Davidson] Chief [Jeanne] Miller does a fantastic job in town... . But she's not staffed to accommodate all the needs of the college," said Murray. "There are things specific to policing in higher education."
Davidson senior Colton Mojesky, 21, echoed those concerns saying, "Davidson police seem to be a lot less understanding of the actual college campus. It's very different from town life."
Still, Schmeidel said the college community is hopeful the court will recognize the contribution Davidson Police bring to the campus and will rule in the department's favor.
"It's a very important case for Davidson and other colleges in North Carolina," she said. "We were glad the Supreme Court decided to hear the case."