Speaking Out

Police Jurisdiction West of 40th?

I commend the new managing director of Public Safety for his Strategic Plan (Almanac March 26). With the foundation laid by former Commissioner John Kuprevich, I have no doubt that, under Tom Seamon's leadership, Penn will remain a national leader in campus law enforcement. I am concerned, however, about an area not addressed in the Strategic Plan--clarifying the jurisdiction of UPPD officers in the campus community.

Title 71, Section 646 of the Pennsylvania Statutes--the section under which UPPD officers are commissioned--states that "[c]ampus police shall exercise their powers and perform their duties only on the premises of the . . . colleges and universities . . . by or for which they are employed." Although Penn asserts that UPPD officers have jurisdiction from 30th-43rd Streets, Market to Baltimore, and although both the Philadelphia Police Department and the state attorney general seem to agree, no Pennsylvania appellate court has ever conclusively subscribed to this interpretation of the law. In fact, judges have been quite hostile to it.

In 1989, a panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court confirmed that UPPD officers have authority to act outside property owned by the University but used for non-educational purposes (the Shops at Penn, Walnut Mall, etc.). However, a concurring judge took pains to point out that the panel's decision did not necessarily extend to non-University property, even if such property is surrounded by or located near University buildings. That question was left open for other courts to consider. Then, in 1993, another Superior Court panel held that, under Section 646, University of Pittsburgh police officers lack any authority in these "near- campus" areas. That panel overturned the conviction of a man whom a Pitt police officer personally observed robbing a student at knifepoint.

An appeal from that ruling was argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in late 1994, and is still pending decision. If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court's opinion--as well it might--UPPD officers could suddenly find their authority to act west of 40th Street rather sharply curtailed.

Before he was shown the door by President Rodin, Commissioner Kuprevich was leading a multi-university lobbying effort to change the law and head off the Supreme Court's decision. That effort seems now to be stalled, and the new Strategic Plan makes no mention of it.

This begs the question: Is the present administration committed to a strong UPPD presence west of 40th Street? If so, what is it doing to ensure the continued legality of such a presence? Before accepting the Strategic Plan, the Penn community should demand these answers.

-- Jeffrey S. Jacobson, SAS '92, Fels '93

Response to Mr. Jacobson

I thank Mr. Jacobson for taking the time to read and reply thoughtfully to the Public Safety Strategic Plan.

In answer to his question: Yes, the present administration is strongly committed to providing the best police service possible in the presently defined UPPD patrol area which extends west to 43rd Street.

Mr. Jacobson correctly points out that there have been several Superior court decisions regarding university police jurisdiction. Some decisions have supported the UPPD's present jurisdiction, while one was against the University of Pittsburgh on a narrowly defined issue.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General has supported the UPPD jurisdiction and the Philadelphia District Attorney supports our present jurisdiction. The State Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue.

I am working with the University administration and other university police chiefs to pass new state legislation clarifying university police jurisdiction throughout the state. I have advised all concerned parties that I am available to testify in Harrisburg in support of this legislation.

-- Thomas Seamon, Managing Director, U. of P. Police Department


April 9, 1996
Volume 42 Number 27

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