UVM Police Services Reviewed:

Ideological Problems and Legal Conflicts


A Realistic History

Until approximately, 1992 the University of Vermont (UVM) operated an unarmed security service that had auxiliary status to the Burlington Police Department (BPD) and were accountable to the President of the University. At that time, President--and former Governor--Tom Salmon decided he wanted a fully armed and legally empowered police force. So acting without any consultation with the campus community he went to the legislature and in 1991 was given the fifth largest police department in Vermont--and the only one not accountable to an elected official. It is the UVM President's Police Force.

Although said to be a state police unit, they are UVM Police under the command of the President of UVM but with full arrest and police powers--as if UVM were a city unto itself. Indeed, the State Police are uneasy about the low level of police training that UVM cops have had compared to the State Police.

Incidentally, in the late 1960s and early 1970s the UVM campus police did surveillance of anti-war activists for the FBI, compiling information--including photos taken by the Campus Photo Service--on faculty, students and staff who were organizing teach-ins and protests.

Accountability and Citizen Control

The following is a review of specific sections of the State of Vermont's Constitution and Statutes (laws). A conflict between these documents should become apparent to the reader. Specifically, a police department exists in the state owned and operated by an insititution of higher education.

We begin with a fundamental principle of police as elucidated in the fifth article of the Vermont Constitution:

Article 5. [Internal police]

That the people of this state by their legal representatives, have the sole, inherent, and exclusive right of governing and regulating the internal police of the same.

See for yourself: Vermont Constitution Online.

The University of Vermont (UVM) was authorized by the State legislature and governor to operate their own police department. UVM is the only known entity in the State which is neither a town, city, municipality nor other form of democratically controlled local government allowed to operate a full-fledged police force.

Part A of Section 2283 [Department of police services], Chapter 75 [University of Vermont and State Agricultural College], Title 16 [Education]

(a) The board of trustees may establish a department of police services and authorize the appointment thereto of police officers and a director of the department who shall be a police officer. Officers so appointed shall be sworn and shall have all law enforcement powers provided by section 1935 of Title 24

See for yourself: Vermont Statutes Online.

UVM is not recognized by the State of Vermont as a municipal government. and does not have any elected officials. As the previous statute stated, it has the power to operate a police department, one equal in training and power as one established by a municipal, or county government. The department is listed with the rest of the State's municipal and county law enforcement agencies, on the Vermont State Police web page.

Section 1935 [Power], Chapter 55 [Police], Title 24 [Municipal and County Government]

Police officers who are employed by a police department established under this chapter or pursuant to charter shall have the same powers as sheriffs in criminal matters and the enforcement of the law and in serving criminal process. The powers granted to police officers under this section may be exercised statewide.

See for yourself: Vermont Statutes Online.

The only system of accountability fabricated by the State concerning UVM Police Services is a complaint/misconduct protocol. The details of this "professional standards process" are to be manufactured by the Board of Trustees, and exercised by the Office of the President. The President of UVM is not an elected official, and is appointed by the Board of Trustees. This arrangement of control of the department is drawn out in the previously mentioned section 2283, of Title 16.

Part D of Section 2283 [Department of police services], Chapter 75 [University of Vermont and State Agricultural College], Title 16 [Education]

(d) Upon written complaint of misconduct by one or more persons concerning any police officer appointed under this section, the director of the department shall cause an investigation to be conducted in a manner consistent with the policies and procedures established by the board of trustees or its duly authorized representative for such purposes. The complainant may appeal the final action of the department to the president of the University of Vermont, who shall convene an advisory commission consisting of three persons, no more than one of whom has a direct or indirect university affiliation. The advisory commission shall provide advice and counsel to the president in assuring appropriate final disposition of the complaint.

See for yourself: Vermont Statutes Online.

Concerns of the UVM's Police Services department are centered on the issues of accountability. Idealy, the government writes laws and enforces them to the likes of its citizens. These democratic ideas are defended and supported by the State of Vermont's Constitution:

Article 6. [Officers servants of the people]

That all power being originally inherent in and co[n]sequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.

See for yourself: Vermont Constitution Online.

Excerpt from Police Services 2000 Clery Report:

Police Services maintains excellent working relationships with all area police agencies including the City of Burlington Police Department, City of South Burlington Police Department, City of Winooski Police Department, Chittenden County Sheriffs Department, Vermont State Police, the local field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and various other state and federal law enforcement agencies. These relationships are maintained through periodic communication among agency administrators and by frequent contact between line officers and investigators cooperating on specific cases. In 1999, Police Services assisted area public safety agencies on 182 occasions.

See for yourself: UVM Police Clery Reports.

This situation allows the UVM police department to become a tool to other police forces, and intelligence and security agencies. This removes another degree of control and accountability to citizens of the state of Vermont serve. If politicians were smart (read "deceptive") they would allocate more resources and officers to the UVM Police force, as citizens would be increasingly incapable of holding law enforcement accountable.


It is recognized that the UVM has a security and public safety dillemma: A problem that overflows the campus and burdens the citizens and police department of the City of Burlington. This occurs in the face of the University paying fiscal and operational costs of a police department.

Affiliates of the University of Vermont have no means of directly regulating or governing their police. The student population, who are the predominant beneficiaries of the department's services, is composed of a large portion of out-of-state students, who are less able to politicaly affect the department. Further, UVM Police Services is located and operates within the city of Burlington. Burlington citizens have no say in the operations of the department that operates in their community.

The most ominous nature of the UVM Police Services department is its deviation and exemption from being controlled by the authority of a democratic local, county or state government. Instead, it is operated by an institution of higher education. The state's public university is marginally supervised by the executive branch (Governor, Auditor of Accounts, et al), but is held accountable largely by the unelected University of Vermont administration.

Should the state of Vermont be handing out the rights and means to create police departments to non-government, non-democratic organizations? Why not private business? Should these police departments be constituted with officers of equal power to municipal governments. Should they be operated by organizations that don't offer customary legal representation for the people they serve.

Dynamics of Power Diagram

Possible Answer?: A new direction

Given this history it looks like the campus could use a police commission made up of elected members of the campus community so the police are accountable to the community they police, not just to the unelected President of the University. The commission would not exist solely for the purpose of reviewing incidents of extreme officer misconduct. Instead, the commission would allow the department to be more responsive to the University's needs and desires.

University administration recognizes the importance of advisory committees. Advisory committees increase accountability to the people the university serves, and foster a forum for community input. Unfortunately, these advisory committees only create the image that the institution is interested in properly serving the community. Affiliates of the University should get the opportunity to share their knowledge. They deserve to decide the direction of the University.

Administrators commonly assemble committees for community input. Unfortunately, they often are composed of individuals which more likely represent their disposition and only serve to assert, sustain and artificially approve their objectives. They should be devised to actually represent the true makeup of the population. The only way this can be done is through tried and tested democratic means.