June 2014 | 0 Comments  Average 5 out of 5

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Many schools and universities have revised policies, increased the use of armed guards, and implemented other security measures to better protect students, faculty, and staff. However, it is critical that institutions understand the inherent risks in working with campus and third-party security forces; the use of excessive force when dealing with a suspected threat can pose an additional safety risk in a volatile situation.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • A high school security guard saw a student loitering in the hallway during classroom hours. Upon approaching the student to instruct him to return to class, a chase and confrontation ensued, during which the student suffered a ruptured heart. He said the guard, who was much larger, kicked him in the chest, but the guard said he fell on the boy. The student survived and sued the institution for negligence and improper training. His medical care cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • A campus police officer pulled over a student he suspected of driving while intoxicated. When the police officer attempted to handcuff him, the student allegedly took the officer’s baton and struck him. The officer fatally shot the student, saying that the student had charged him again after the officer had regained control of the baton. In addition to the tragic loss of life, the institution suffered reputational damage, and the student’s family filed a multimillion dollar suit against the university, alleging negligence in training, supervision, and policies, and wrongful death.

Institutions can take these steps to minimize the potential for similar events and reduce liability:

  1. Run thorough background checks on all security personnel. Look for red flags, such as previous violent incidents, complaints, or frequent job changes.
  2. Consistently review and disseminate campus security policies. Ensure that campus police officers receive proper training in accordance with these policies.
  3. Consider the use of security cameras on campus. Security footage of incidents in which excessive force is alleged can help clarify what actually happened.
  4. Work with defense counsel who specialize in this unique aspect of law. Juries and the public will generally side with a student unless fault is clearly proved.

By Mike Toohey, UE member relations specialist

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