Drexel University’s campus, which spans approximately 2.5 miles in area, overlaps with five other police departments: the University of Pennsylvania Police Department, University City District Police, the 16th and 18th District of the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) and Amtrak and SEPTA officers.
Breaking down the jurisdiction of each police department, you see the entirety of the University City area being heavily covered.
Drexel University’s Police Department privately employs 45 sworn officers, who are responsible for patrolling from 30th to 36th Streets between Chestnut and Spring Garden Streets. Together, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania, which employs 121 officers, covers 30th to 43rd Streets.
The 16th and 18th Districts span the entirety of Fairmount Park into Kensessing, the University City District Police has 45 officers that patrol from the Schuylkill Expressway to 50th Street, and Amtrak and SEPTA officers patrol near 30th and Market Streets.
With Drexel’s campus at the center of multiple police forces, and with access to the nation’s fourth largest city police department that has over 6,300 officers, the security of its students seems more than adequate.
In a time where police forces are being questioned and petitioned to be defunded and/or abolished, the need for the robust police force that Drexel University has is also being put under the spotlight.
First and foremost, the responsibilities and expectations of a Drexel police officer versus those of a PPD officer differ. Drexel police assist with medical, ambulance and fire calls, but they are also concerned with student affairs and conduct, noise complaints and alcohol and drug use. They often deal with concerns that are not illegal but disruptive.
Drexel police and the PPD work together on investigations, and any arrests the Drexel police make are filed with the PPD.
Although the Drexel police are employed by the university and patrol the campus, they have authority over non-students and those outside their designated area, and studies have shown that they treat students and non-students differently.
For example, Drexel students are often given a pass for drug and alcohol-related offenses, while non-students that come into contact with the Drexel police face harsher consequences for the same offenses.
Research from The Appeal shows that university police make more arrests that have no connection to the university than those that do.
Drexel’s police officers are required to ensure the safety of its students but are not required to ensure the safety of people off campus. According to the Urban Institute, they are, however, legally authorized to arrest or use legal force on people off campus. In these cases, they are not required to report and are not held to the Freedom of Information Act, which requires disclosure of information upon request.
This allows privately run departments access to all the power — and none of the accountability — over the public that accompanies policing.
So why are universities in urban areas, Drexel included, adding to the already prominent police forces? The PPD’s 2020 fiscal budget was almost $750 million, compared to the $159 million budgeted for the Department of Public Health, $45 million for free libraries, $81 million for the Department of Parks and Recreation and $104 million for the Office of Homeless Services.
Should Drexel be contributing to the already heavily patrolled University City? And why should the Drexel police average salary (which is $87,369, according to paysa.com) be so much higher than those of other police in the area?
These questions are being asked, especially since many Drexel departments and grant proposals for research have been lacking funds, and many student-led organizations are relying on fundraisers and donations.
According to salary.com, the average salary of a PPD officer is $60,900. According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the maximum salary for a University of Pennsylvania police officer is $65,000. And paysa.com reports that the average SEPTA police officers’ salary is $65,000.
Drexel’s police force covers six blocks, which is significantly less area than that covered by the other five police forces that also patrol Drexel’s campus. This further emphasizes the stark contrast in salaries of Drexel police officers and those of the neighboring forces that cover more area.
The recent Black Lives Matter protests have elevated a national discussion about defunding the police. “Defund the police” and “No justice, no peace, abolish the police” signs have been prominent at protests, and this once-radical idea has gained momentum in recent months.
Against this national backdrop, Drexel students may reconsider the need for the university’s own privately employed officers — who make significantly more money than other private or city police department police in the area.