To Serve and Protect

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A November decision by the N.C. State Supreme Court allows church-affiliated colleges to retain campus police forces.
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By Stacey Schmeidel

A high-profile court case that might have required church-affiliated colleges and universities to change the way they manage campus police work has resulted in an affirmation of Davidson’s approach to campus safety.

Thanks to a November decision by the State Supreme Court in State of North Carolina v. Julie Anne Yencer, church-affiliated colleges like Davidson and Duke will be allowed to retain campus police forces. Davidson College currently employs nine full-time and 10 part-time sworn officers who go through the same certification process and have the same authority as off-campus police officers. “We’re committed to having our campus be a safe environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” said President Carol Quillen. “We believe strongly that having an on-campus force of sworn, trained officers is the best way to do that.”

Although Davidson was not a party in State v. Yencer, the college was directly affected, as the incident at the heart of the case involved a Davidson College police officer.

It all began in 2006, when Julie Anne Yencer—who is not affiliated with the college—was pulled over by a Davidson College police officer who saw her driving erratically on a road bordering the campus. (Davidson College police officers have enforcement and arrest powers on campus and on streets adjacent to campus.)

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All students in the State of North Carolina deserve the protection of well-trained,
sworn police officers—whether their college is public or private, religiously affiliated or not.

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Yencer initially pled guilty to driving while impaired and reckless driving on a street adjacent to campus. But she later appealed, claiming that because Davidson is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the college should be seen as a “religious institution,” and North Carolina therefore should be prohibited from commissioning sworn officers to work for the college. Her argument was based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits excessive entanglement of church and state.

Yencer’s appeal was heard three years ago in the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In August 2010, that court issued a decision in favor of Yencer, citing precedent established in cases at Pfeiffer and Campbell universities. But the Appeals Court included a rather extraordinary statement in its opinion, noting that without the burden of precedent established in the two earlier cases, the Appeals Court would have held that Davidson was not a religious institution. The Appeals Court concluded its opinion by urging the State Supreme Court to review the case.

The State Supreme Court granted that review, and the case was argued in March 2011. Davidson filed an amicus brief, and attorney Brad Kutrow spoke on behalf of the college at the hearing. His argument noted that Davidson is an educational institution with a religious affiliation, rather than a religious institution. Kutrow noted, too, that the college’s police officers enforce the law without religious bias.

When the State Supreme Court issued its opinion in November 2011, it sided with the State of North Carolina—and with Davidson. “We hold that the Campus Police Act, as applied to [Yencer], does not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court said.

College Police Chief Adrienne Murray is pleased with the outcome. “All students in the State of North Carolina deserve the protection of well-trained, sworn police officers—whether their college is public or private, religiously affiliated or not. We are here for our campus community—they are who we serve and protect—and I am delighted that we can continue to do so in uniform.”

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