Welcome to the Cops Off Campus Research Project—a crowdsourced, nationwide study of the interrelations of universities and policing, coordinated by an all-volunteer collective of abolitionist researchers.
Annually, policing of colleges and universities is likely a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. We say “likely” because we honestly don’t know how much universities spend on policing. Yet, as abolitionist researchers, we think there’s lots to gain by learning to talk about what we don’t know, because not knowing presents the opportunity to use research to build abolitionist networks and frameworks. Further, this question of how much universities spend barely scratches the surface of what we don’t know about universities’ relationship to policing. We see this project as a way to make the relationship between higher education and policing into a studyable one, and then to help support our fellow travelers in studying it. We want to support a variety of people—as educators, student organizers, community organizations, and others—to glimpse the scale of the problem, to dig beneath it, and to share what they learned and how they learned it.
In the survey for building the database, the questions we ask include:
- How much money do universities invest in policing? Where does that money come from? (Does it come from tuition dollars? Federal grants? Donations?)
- Where do they invest that money? In their own police forces? In the enhancement of local policing capacity?
- What do university police do? What powers do they have? Where is their jurisdiction, and toward whom do they exercise those powers? Who gets policed?
- What does university policing look like from the perspective of those who are policed? What other transformations and policies accompany it?
- What specific interests does university investment in policing serve? Does it allow universities to expand their property holdings into new locations?
- And of course, the crucial question for historians: how have all of these matters changed over time?
To answer these questions we’re seeking different kinds of data, including:
- Quantitative data about police budgets and student and local demographics
- Qualitative data about interactions with police on and around campuses
- News stories, past and present, about campus policing.
- Historical documents and archival data, which will require bringing university archivists into the conversation, and we’ve made a guide for how organizers can engage with university archivists.
We see collecting this difficult-to-access data as an entry point into a larger movement-embedded research project. For more info about this project, including its underlying principles and guidance on how to integrate it with courses, please see our Toolkit. The toolkit is a way to help you build ways of interacting collectively with the Cops Off Campus Database. It offers a set of guidelines and a modest curriculum through which people can enter into abolitionist study of the university.