Resource Center

article / August 15, 2023

How to become a campus police officer

A sign bearing the insignia of the Campus Enforcement & Patrol of the Memorial University of Newfoundland is affixed to a stone wall at night. It is lit through the sliding glass doors of the headquarters beside it.

Campus security work can be a springboard to a career in law enforcement by providing relevant experience and essential training

Despite what some college students may believe, campus police officers are not private security or “police lite.” In fact, campus police officers often share the full authority of police officers from neighboring communities, bearing the same skills, qualifications and legal power that a local officer would. At the biggest universities, they may even hold more sway than local police thanks to the vast resources and high professional standards required by the office. These jobs frequently serve as effective launching pads for careers in law enforcement. If you’re curious about how to earn one for yourself, keep reading to learn the process, training and more you’ll need to master to succeed as a campus police officer.

Campus police vs. campus security

Campus police and campus security often work side by side on the same teams as part of a campus security force, but the two titles are not interchangeable. Campus police officers are sworn officers in the same way a local police officer would be. They typically receive academy training (more on that later), carry firearms and wield the full force of the badge in their work. You'll run into them more often at larger institutions. Some such agencies even have limited jurisdiction beyond the campus itself.

Campus security, on the other hand, is made up of civilians empowered by the institution to keep the peace, conduct community projects and patrol the grounds. They haven't taken the police oath of office and rarely carry weapons. In fact, at smaller institutions, they're often students. 

Despite not receiving formal police training, campus security officers are still subject to rigorous standards. For example, New York University's security agency has been vetted by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. That organization's Campus Security Accreditation Program ensures all the agents working on NYU's campus meet a high bar for professionalism and service.

Training and qualifications for a campus police officer

Becoming a campus police officer typically begins by studying the law in some form at a college or university. Having a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement, criminal justice, law, or another related field can provide a major leg up in the application process. Experience in security or law enforcement is similarly valuable.

Each institution has its own process for fielding campus police applicants, but the general outline is often the same. Applicants must submit to a background check, psychological and physical evaluations and drug screenings. Should an applicant pass these checks and receive a job offer, they’ll begin rigorous physical and academic training that prepares them for active duty. This campus safety training period can last as long as six months, and is often followed by a probationary period to ensure the applicant fits the job. Although organizations exist that provide campus security certification, they typically cannot function as a substitute for the campus security officer training you’ll receive upon being offered a position.

The exact contents of the training you receive may vary somewhat depending on the institution at which you serve. For example, at State Universities of New York, recruits are trained in criminal procedure law, emergency medical services, firearms training, community relations, and other tools, technology and solutions that will help them to do their best work. Axon has created a suite of campus safety solutions to aid campus police in their efforts, from body cameras to the data management system Axon Evidence. Click here to learn more about Axon’s campus safety offerings.

Skills and traits for a campus police officer

Campus police are expected to have a deep knowledge and understanding of not just local and state law, but also university code of conduct rules. They must be comfortable interfacing with a wide range of diverse civilians, including students, instructors and administrators, which makes written and verbal communication skills paramount. These skills also prove handy when cooperating with other law enforcement agencies that may operate in nearby communities, responding to requests for assistance and writing case reports.

Many traditional police agencies have embraced community policing, but it takes on special import on campuses. Community policing prioritizes building relationships with the community and using problem-solving techniques to address the conditions that create public safety issues before those issues become dangerous. Campus police aim to do this by fostering positive relations with students and faculty such that when disturbances to arise, everyone on campus is aligned in trying to bring the the conflict under control.

In terms of hard skills, a good campus police officer will need to know how to drive, administer first aid skills and perform with a level head under pressure. Campus events can get hectic and heated, and campus police must rise to the occasion with appropriate de-escalation skills. Also useful: knowledge of or experience with closed circuit television, two-way radios and access control systems.

What does the day to day look like for a campus police officer?

Here are a few of the tasks a campus police officer will likely perform in the course of a day:

  • Enforce laws and school regulations

  • Monitor the activities of visitors to campus

  • Patrol school grounds

  • Maintain peace during events, including guest lectures, concerts and protests

  • Detain and arrest criminals and suspects

  • Enforce traffic and parking laws

  • Provide information and directions about campus

  • Receive and respond to emergency and non-emergency calls for assistance

  • Write case reports following established procedures

Where does campus security work fit into a law enforcement career?

From an outside perspective, campus police officers may seem like a simple stepping stone toward a career in other law enforcement agencies. The truth, however, is that campus security can be a career on its own. Many officers stay in the campus police ecosystem once they enter, and with good reason. These positions, especially those tied to large institutions of higher education, provide ample compensation and valuable benefits.

Although opportunities for advancement exist within the campus police ladder, many officers opt to move into other fields after a stint as campus police. Because the skills, qualifications and experience they gain on-campus mirrors so closely that of standard police work, they typically wind up working for another force: the most common move among campus police who leave their posts is to join a traditional police force as an officer. Other popular positions include security officers, loss prevention officers, corrections officers and deputy sheriffs.

How Axon supports campus police and security

Schools can be particularly fraught environments, and students are a particularly vulnerable population. That's why Axon offers a wealth of campus safety solutions to help keep both K12 and higher education institutions safe. Axon body-worn cameras help de-escalate conflict and maintain transparency, and their footage can be quickly and easily processed using Axon's data management system, Axon Evidence. Axon also offers cutting edge VR training for immersive de-escalation and community engagement training. Click here to learn more.