Outsourcing Campus Security Operations

In this age of budget shortfalls and increasing demand for high-quality services, university administration can find itself between a rock and a hard place, especially when it comes to security operations. While outsourcing security operations is not a common scenario, it may be worth considering as a means of saving money and gaining efficiencies.

College Planning & Management recently spoke with Bill James, public safety director for the City of Auburn, AL, about its contract to provide police services to Auburn University. Here’s his perspective about this unique — and successful — police merger agreement.

CPM: What lead Auburn University (AU) to contract its security operations to the City of Auburn?

James: From the city’s side, it’s my understanding that there had been discussions through the years about the merits of having a single police force. Would it be feasible? What would it take?

In early 2004, the city considered it internally and had discussions with the city’s police chief. A minimum staffing level was identified, which was provided to the university. Discussions continued for three to four months, and an agreement was hammered out effective July 1, 2004. Once it was learned the AU police chief was retiring, things happened relatively quickly.

CPM: What is the length of the contract?

James: There is no specific length. It states that the partnership will continue until one party wishes to stop and gives a nine-month notice.

However, every year we make adjustments and sign a new contract for X amount of dollars. This includes a quarterly financial review. If the city’s expenses are above normal, we send an invoice to the University. If they’re below normal, we send a refund.

CPM: With whom at the University does the city work?

James: Initially it was a person in Auxiliary Services. Since then, a major who stayed at AU acts as a liaison and serves as their director of Security and Safety. We communicate with the University via both round table discussions and phone/e-mail. There are regular meetings between the City of Auburn and Auburn University to discuss city/university relations.

CPM: How did the city staff for the additional work load?

James: Sworn personnel employed by AU’s Police Department were given an opportunity to work for the city. Most made the transition. Actually, more came over than were identified in our base number, so we’ve not filled positions as we’ve experienced attrition. The base number of officers that were identified as required to police Auburn University continue to police both the city and Auburn University.

In addition, we took possession of the University’s equipment and cars and reimbursed them through time based on a mutually agreed-upon value.

CPM: How smooth was the transition?

James: From an operational standpoint, the transition wasn’t difficult because we were still doing the same thing, only in a larger area. We still have four shifts staffed with a lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, and officers.

One of the challenges of merging any two businesses, as you can imagine, is that they had a certain mindset and we had a certain mindset. We had to get everyone working as one unit for a common goal and not thinking, “That’s an AU guy,” or “That’s a city guy.” We’re all City of Auburn police officers, regardless of who we worked with before the merger.

To that end, we all worked together to learn what was unique about policing on the campus and policing in the city.

One reason it wasn’t received with open arms from either side is because of the unknowns: How does this affect my job? How does it affect my promotion opportunities? We have worked through all that and, for the most part, everyone sees it as a benefit to both the city and University.

CPM: How is the partnership working now?

James: We think it’s going very well. We continue to look at our operations, the needs of the University, and the needs of the city. As we identify needs or new programs, we propose them to the University. Similarly, the University may approach us with a need or program. There’s a continual dialog to see where we are, where we want to go, and what we can do better. We all work hard to make sure the partnership does what it’s intended to do and is beneficial to everyone — to make sure students, faculty, and citizens are safe.

CPM: What drawbacks do you see to outsourcing campus security operations?

James: We have had other police departments and universities call and ask what it’s like. They say that campus policing is different from city policing and that it can’t be done. It is true that policing the two is different in terms of expectations: What campus administrators expect can be different than what the community expects. It’s also true that every police chief has a different idea of how to police. No one is wrong; they’re just different, and ultimately you end up with the same result in that everyone remains safe, even though you’ve taken different routes to get there.

When the merger occurred, there were a number of comments from university personnel that they no longer had police. That isn’t true. The policing is still there, just like it was before. It’s just that the administration is located off campus.

CPM: What advice do you have for campus administrators considering outsourcing their security operations?

James: Research it well. Look at all the pros and cons. I suggest calling someone who has already done it for his or her perspective. Talk with the university administrators, too, for their perspective. Identify why you want to do it, and try to have a clear understanding of what is expected from both agencies.