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Back to Archives | Back to March 2008 Contents 

Community Policing in a University Environment

By Ed L. Howell, Director of Police, Security, and Parking, Fort Hays State University Police Department, Hays, Kansas

Fort Hays State Quick Facts

  Student Enrollment: About 9,588 students are enrolled, 4,433 on campus and 5,155 distance learners. The university’s four colleges and graduate school have commuter and residence as well as long-distance students.

  Institutional Setting: The main campus sits on 200 of the 4,160 acres owned by the state and deeded to the university by an act of Congress in Hays, a small city in the central part of Kansas.

  Police Department: The Fort Hays State University Police Department employs nine full-time, armed, state certified police officers as well as one security officer. Officers are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

ort Hays State University (FHSU), a picturesque academic institution on the plains of northwest Kansas, was created as a special act of Congress. Congress deeded the grounds of Fort Hays, a frontier military outpost that was vacated in 1889, for creation of the university in 1902. The fort, located in the city of Hays, Kansas, and the city itself are historically known for such western figures as General George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok (sheriff of Hays City and Ellis County).

The campus property includes more than 40 limestone buildings. It is the fourth largest of the six state universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents, with an enrollment of approximately 9,588 students, of whom 7,884 are undergraduates and 1,704 are enrolled in graduate programs.

FHSU can be best described as a commuter, residence, and long-distance campus, boasting four traditional residential life buildings with a potential occupancy of 1,335 students and two apartment complexes with a potential occupancy of 218. The remaining students reside within the city of Hays and surrounding areas.

The Fort Hays State University Police Department (UPD) provides the primary police protection services to the university, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, FHSU Foundation property, the University Farm and Livestock Pavilion, parking lots, and residence halls.

FHSU police officers are commissioned by the State of Kansas and have the same law enforcement authority and responsibilities as local police and sheriff’s deputies. The UPD has primary jurisdiction over all property owned or controlled by Fort Hays State University as well as concurrent jurisdiction within the city of Hays, and all UPD officers carry an Ellis County deputy commission.

UPD officers are responsible for a full range of public safety services, including criminal investigations, enforcement of criminal statutes and city ordinances, collection of data for the required statistical crime reports, motor vehicle accident investigations, civil commitments for persons in need of care, traffic and parking enforcement, emergency management, enforcement of FHSU rules and regulations, and the security of the university’s physical assets. The UPD refers statutory violations for judicial oversight and prosecution to municipal, district, and federal courts.

As a commitment to public safety, the university approved funding for the Center of Public Safety (COPS) in February 2006, and renovation began on an existing structure in September 2007, with completion anticipated in March 2008. This facility represents a convergence of all UPD operations (in a controlled and secure environment), encompassing law enforcement, public safety education, emergency management and planning, and public safety communications for the university. Specifically, the facility will house a state-of-the-art interview room for forensic interviews, training and conference area, administrative offices, dispatch, patrol section, investigative sections for computer forensics, and the Ellis County High Technology Crime Unit.

Several of the areas within COPS were designed for versatility and multiple uses. As an example, the mediated training room features 20 phone lines, wireless connectivity to the university networks, access to the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System, a Virtual Private Network for the UPD records management system, and Web emergency operation center (EOC) management software with direct connectivity to the adjutant general’s office and the Kansas Emergency Operations Center in Topeka. COPS is the primary location for the UPD’s EOC as well as for command and control, and it serves as the secondary location for the Ellis County EOC. The UPD dispatch center is designated as the secondary Public Service Answering Point and dispatch center for Ellis County.

“High-tech/high-touch,” a term often used to describe the university learning environment, has an entirely different connotation as it relates to the Fort Hays State UPD and its officers. Coupled with the department’s abilities relating to computer forensics, its emerging closed-circuit television (CCTV) applications within various buildings on campus can be remotely monitored in its dispatch area. Additionally, with the anticipated merging of the existing mobile data applications with the university’s wireless network, officers will be able to remotely view the emerging CCTV applications on the laptops in the patrol units. This provides real-time information in those areas. As an example, if a hold-up alarm is activated at the Memorial Union, which houses a branch bank, dispatch and officers can view the situation (in real time) as it takes place within that area.

As a direct reaction to the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007, Fort Hays State University convened a standing committee to review, consolidate, define, coordinate, implement, and educate the public about its crisis management plan from an institutional perspective; a reflection of “what if?” crisis management became a united institutional effort to provide a safer environment with the participation of the offices of Mental Health Services, University Relations, Administration and Finance, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, University Police, and General Counsel, as well as various faculty members and the physical plant. Specifically, the crisis management plan addressed threat assessment and behavioral intervention (lessons learned from the tragedy at Virginia Tech), hostage situations and armed persons on campus, death of a student or employee, infectious diseases, violent crimes against university patrons, biological agent events or threats, damage or destruction of university property, damage or harm to financial assets, crisis communication, fire and building evacuation, severe weather, and information technology/data compromise.

Several university-wide forums were conducted to educate the FHSU community about the crisis management plan. Training sessions are held with residential life staff and presented by the UPD on a variety of topics including drug recognition, the crisis plan, and use of police radios that are strategically located in four of the residence halls and are used by their security staff.

Additionally, FHSU now utilizes an emergency notification system, which is hosted by an off-site vendor. The emergency notification system was created to provide timely notification to students, faculty, and staff in imminent danger. When use of the system is triggered, a notification is sent out via text message, voice message, and e-mail to all persons who have provided the university with emergency contact information. The complete crisis management plan is available on the FHSU Web site at

After reflection on and in response to the events at Virginia Tech, the UPD has decided to integrate traditional law enforcement concepts, develop internal university partnerships, and utilize technology to enhance public safety, intervention, and communication and to provide safety to the students, staff, and faculty of FHSU. If there is any solace to be found in the Virginia Tech tragedy, it is that the profound event has spawned a review by all universities across the United States on how to react to, intervene in, and communicate issues relating to public safety. University police departments across the country now realize that such emergencies can happen anywhere, anytime.



From The Police Chief, vol. 75, no. 3, March 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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