POCATELLO, Idaho — Pocatello officials say they’re concerned that campus security officers at Idaho State University have been overstepping their authority.
The concerns stem from several instances, including one in September, when the city says security guards delayed calling police about an accidental shooting, the Idaho State Journal reported. Assistant chemistry professor Byron Bennett shot himself in the foot when a gun in his pocket went off during a lecture, and by the time city police arrived, the scene had been cleaned up.
On other occasions, the city says, campus security administered an alcohol breath-test on a driver before calling police and seized marijuana from a dorm room without notifying police for three days.
Pocatello City Attorney Dean Tranmer raised the city’s complaints in a letter last week, noting that the campus safety officers are not law enforcement authorized by state law.
“I cannot impress upon you enough that the intent of the Public Safety Officers is to only enforce the university’s rules and regulations,” he wrote. “For anything other than university rules and regulations, it is purely the responsibility of the Pocatello Police Department and other qualified law enforcement agencies to enforce, investigate, cite and arrest.”
Tranmer also suggested that the university’s security officers change their uniforms to orange shirts with black pants to resolve any mistaken identity issues with city officers. The campus security officers have started carrying pistols this year, and their uniforms are the same color as Pocatello police uniforms, with identical leather holsters.
Tranmer said that if the campus security guards continue to perform tasks reserved for sworn police, they could be cited.
That prompted a defensive reply from the school.
“We were saddened and disappointed to receive your letter of Nov. 10,” the university’s counsel, David Alexander, wrote back on Friday. “We fear that this letter has the potential to disrupt a partnership between ISU and the city of Pocatello, and between the ISU Public Safety Office and the Pocatello Police Department that has worked to the benefit of the city and ISU for many years.”
Alexander’s letter said the public safety officers were offended by the threat of citations “without even the courtesy of a phone call first to discuss whatever issues you have with our operations.”
No campus security officer has ever identified himself as a law enforcement officer or acted outside the scope of their authorized duties, he wrote.
The letter from the school’s lawyer also states that the campus safety officers have the right to conduct field interviews and seize evidence when necessary to preserve it for police use.
“If there are indications of criminal activity, police will be specifically notified, but as you are aware, our dispatchers are in constant communication with the county dispatch center,” Alexander’s letter states. “Our operations are completely transparent to the Pocatello Police, who are welcome to respond to any call on campus if they feel it is advisable.”
Idaho State University is the only one of the three major universities in Idaho to employ its own campus security force. Boise State and the University of Idaho contract with local city police departments to provide campus security.
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, Police Chief Scott Marchand and the university’s public safety director, Stephen Chatterton, planned to meet Friday to discuss the matter.