Ohio State has the lowest number of officers per student among Big Ten and Midwestern universities, leading some local law enforcement officials to question safety on campus.
A May 2013 internal staffing analysis from the OSU Police Division states the need for hiring 10 to 13 full-time officers “to balance the amount of time required for response to calls from our community based on 2012 CAD call data.”
CAD stands for computer-assisted dispatch, which is the system used by the University Police 911 dispatchers.
University spokesman Gary Lewis said, however, “it is not accurate to report that we have a shortage of at least 10-13 officers.”
“In looking at the last seven years of our staffing levels, at our highest staffing in 2008, we had 52 officers,” Lewis said in an email. “We currently have 46 sworn officers and are in the process of hiring one officer to replace someone who retired in January, which will bring us to 47, which is consistent with where our staffing levels have been.”
Columbus Division of Police Sgt. Shaun Laird, who spoke on behalf of University Police as the secretary for a local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the change in staffing levels, though, should raise concerns.
“In the last seven years, (University Police) had 52 officers at one point, and they’re basically saying that 52 to 46 is a wash,” he said. “And it’s really a 10 percent reduction. Ten percent when you have that few of people to start with is pretty dramatic. And as you can guess, if you had a 10 percent decrease in student enrollment or a 10 percent decrease in state funding, it would be front page news.
“Ohio State says, ‘We want to be the best at everything,’ and they’re certainly not the best at safety. And they’re actually the worst.”
Issues of under-staffing were highlighted recently when Capt. Eric Chin of Purdue University Police Department compiled data that showed OSU had the lowest rate of officers per student in the Big Ten and Midwest. The study notes that OSU has about .85 officers per 1,000 students, and the number has since been adjusted to about .80 officers per 1,000 students, as the number of officers is currently 46, not 48 as the data originally suggested.
Laird said it’s important to note not all 46 officers are actively patrolling, nor do all 46 work at once. The internal report states a typical shift is staffed by five officers, with one assigned to OSU East Hospital.
Because of a shortage in officers, however, Laird said having an officer stationed at OSU East Hospital at all times could become a thing of the past.
“As a measure because staffing numbers are so low, they’re proposing that they’re going to pull the officers out of OSU East,” Laird said. “So they have basically 24-hour coverage at the hospital, and they’re saying they’re going to pull those officers out.”
Northwestern leads the list of Big Ten and Midwestern universities with 2.9 officers per 1,000 students, followed by the University of Notre Dame, with 2.3 officers per 1,000 students, according to Chin’s report.
According to OSU’s 2013 annual campus security and fire safety report, there were 22 reports of burglary, four of aggravated assault, two of robbery and 21 of forcible sex offenses in 2012. Northwestern’s 2013 annual campus security and fire safety report noted 17 reports of burglary, one of aggravated assault, no robberies and two reports of forcible sex offenses on its main campus in that same period.
There is, however, also a disparity in the population of the two schools, with OSU having about 40,000 more students than Northwestern, according to the police staffing data report.
OSU’s Columbus campus has the third largest population on the list (behind Michigan and Rutgers University, which have the third and second lowest officer-to-student ratio, respectively) and the largest amount of building space.
The report said OSU needs more than 67 officers based on the overall Big Ten police officer to student ratio, and it should employ more than 84 officers to match up to the overall Midwest ratio.
The University Police internal report said a possible alternative to hiring more officers is continuing to use overtime funding for current officers, although the report warns against that.
“Use of overtime funding is not desirable based on the strain on existing staff, cost-per-hour for coverage, lack of flexibility when greater numbers of officers are needed and negative public perception based on high individual salaries,” the report states.
Laird said mandating officers to work overtime could be dangerous for both the officers and constituents.
“After a while, although the money sounds good at first, after a while you become stretched pretty thin,” Laird said. “And the university has so many things that they need covered, because it’s such a big university, that the officers are working all this mandated overtime start to have burn out, things like that.
“The other concern is if you’re having to use all this overtime all the time, then that means probably at one point there’s a, you probably need more officers to cover the mission. And their own staffing study says they need 10 to 13 more officers.”
Lewis said while the university only employs 46 police officers, the university’s safety precautions do not end there, as the university also employs “40 trained security officers for the academic campus and 57 uniformed security officers for the Wexner Medical Center,” along with Student Safety Service officers.
University Police Chief Paul Denton echoed that sentiment, in a statement emailed by Lewis.
“The safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors is our highest priority,” Denton said. “The strategy for public safety involves a combination of police officers, security officers, emergency management personnel, technology and community engagement. All of these are important in their own respect and additional resources would always be welcomed.”
Laird said, however, while there are additional security personnel, that does not necessarily measure up to having more police officers, as these personnel are unarmed.
“When they talk about safety forces, they’re talking about unarmed security, unarmed security at the hospital, and people looking at cameras, things like that,” he said. “We’re not trying to say anything negative about that, but realistically if you have unarmed security, if anything bad ever happens, those people are running away from the problem with the rest of the general public.”
He said these efforts are also likely mirrored by the other universities in the Big Ten and Midwest named on the list.
“I’m sure those other universities are using unarmed security, and I’m sure they’re using cameras. Ohio State is not unique in that nature,” Laird said. “But why is the ratio so low when all these other universities’ is much, much higher?”
He added that the disparity is additionally concerning because of OSU’s location in Columbus.
“If you go to Indiana, that’s not a big city,” he said. “West Lafayette, Purdue, that’s not a big city. This is a big city with big city problems. And a lot of those neighborhoods, unfortunately, are just east and just south of student housing, and some of that bleeds onto the university.”