Boise State and Boise Police: A closer look at the campus safety contract

Photo by Claire Keener

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 also sparked an immense wave of social justice movements and discussions about policing all over the world, prompted by the death of George Floyd and other Black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement. On a more local level, Boise State’s campus safety contract with the Boise Police Department (BPD) was on its last year. 

With the national political climate and community demands for student representation and police accountability, Boise State president Dr. Marlene Tromp established a committee to re-evaluate the university’s contract with BPD and explore other options for campus security.

A year later, the decision to sign a new contract with BPD was announced.

Boise Police Department office on Boise State campus
[Boise Police Department office on Boise State campus]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

“After a thorough and thoughtful exploration of options for campus safety over the past two years, Boise State University and the Boise Police Department (BPD) are continuing a collaboration of many years,” Tromp wrote in the announcement released on Oct. 12, 2021.

Following a year where the role of police in the community had become more integrated into public discourse, the decision has been met with a mixed response. 

Particularly, some students within the student government, the Associated Students of Boise State (ASBSU) and the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC), have both expressed a sense of disappointment in the lack of student involvement in this decision.

Upon the announcement of the new contract, IESC vice president Grace Burgert initially told The Arbiter that the news was “extremely disappointing and upsetting.”

Reevaluating campus safety

According to former ASBSU president Angel Cantu, who was on the committee during the summer of 2020, the committee was made specifically to “focus on evaluating our relationship with BPD.”

“[Tromp] and her team hand-selected certain people that she thought would make the most sense to have on the committee, like the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and other individuals that are related to that side of the university operations,” Cantu said.

Cantu went on to explain that since he was one of the only student representatives available for that summer after his election, he was the primary student who served on the committee to represent the student body.

In September 2020, the committee recommended that the university continue the final year of its contract with BPD. This decision was made due to a consensus that certain issues might occur pertaining to support services that Boise police provide to university staff. 

This included “responding to calls on campus 24/7, [manning] the emergency blue light stations, dispatch[ing] campus security and building maintenance teams.”

After this first committee’s recommendation, which was ultimately accepted by the university administration, the university had more time to evaluate its future relationship with BPD. 

Tromp then formed a second committee that would look at other options for campus safety. This committee was known as the Law Enforcement Services Advisory Committee (LESAC).

The search for public safety options

LESAC was broken down into three subcommittees: research, campus engagement and survey.

According to the final report published by LESAC, the research subcommittee had the role of reviewing “campus information, demographics and public safety profiles for all Mountain West Conference Schools in addition to select institutions including peer institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).” 

They also conducted surveys with university stakeholders and evaluated research papers from the Police Executive Research Forum. All of this information was collected to better inform the other two committees. 

Most internal university stakeholders and partners “emphasized the importance of information sharing with law enforcement, which has aided the university in Title IX cases, threat assessments, event preparation and security, traffic control, Clery and CARE Team response.” 

The time and energy put into building a relationship between the university and BPD was also emphasized within these findings.

The campus engagement subcommittee had the role of addressing and exploring “the concerns and hopes of the Boise State community.” The subcommittee achieved this by holding town halls and listening sessions over Zoom with the campus community to discuss campus safety, along with current events. 

Surveys had also been sent to ASBSU, Association of Classified Employees (ACE), Professional Staff Association (PSA) and Faculty Senate. 

Boise State University sign
[Photo of Boise State University sign]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

The information gathered from this subcommittee was largely mixed, with some feeling that more accountability was needed from the police and others saying that they felt safe with police present.

The final subcommittee, survey, worked to extract specific data from the Boise State population. The subcommittee sent a survey to a random sample of 3,358 members of the Boise State population in October 2020. 

The final report states that “the goal of the survey was to gauge the perceptions of the campus community regarding Boise State DPS personnel as well as Boise State-assigned BPD officers. Survey questions also gauged perceptions of campus safety and willingness to contact DPS.” 

In terms of respondent demographics, the report points out that a “great majority of respondents were white (78% students; 86% faculty; 80% staff)”, reflecting demographics as a whole at the university. Most respondents indicated that they grew up in rural or urban areas, and almost half said that “they consider the area they grew up in as ‘diverse,’ where people represent multiple races, cultures, genders, social classes and religions.”

A majority of respondents “reported feeling a sense of safety on the Boise State campus” and that Campus Safety Officers and BPD Officers had met expectations in regards to campus safety. Some respondents also reported that they mainly felt unsafe in certain campus locations at night. This trend is also seen when looking at respondents who identified as Black, Hispanic and two-races or ethnicities.

Using this data and information, LESAC ultimately provided several recommendations. This included the creation of a Campus Safety Advisory Committee (CSAC) to be composed of students, faculty, staff members and at least one designee from the contractor of choice, all appointed by the president of the university.

The exact role of CSAC would be to “address quality of life and public safety issues on campus.” Specifically, this includes “identifying training initiatives for campus security officers and contracted law enforcement, recommending proactive practices and communications and ensuring transparency and/or involvement in the selection of contracted law enforcement officers assigned to campus.”

A “Campus Community Awareness Campaign” was also recommended by the committee, in order to inform the campus community on the hybrid safety model

Two contract recommendations were given to President Tromp’s office: to establish a new contract with BPD or to have several law enforcement agencies competitively bid for a contract with the university, with an emphasis towards the first option. 

This emphasis was made due to the amount of time, money and effort required to integrate a new agency into the university. LESAC advised against both the creation of a university police department and operating without a contract altogether.

Ultimately, the university opted for the first option and created a new contract with BPD.

The new contract

After months of negotiations, the university and BPD wrote a new contract in October 2021.

This contract is not too dissimilar from previous iterations of the contract. It will last for five years and two months. It establishes six-officer positions and a rotating four-year lieutenant position.

CSAC will also be formed, with the lieutenant serving on the committee as the representative for BPD. Officers will also be subject to the typical university training, such as Title IX and the Clery Act.

However, a difference between this contract and the previous was a budget increase to $2 million, with an incremental increase each year of the contract, ultimately ending in a $2.2 million budget by 2026. The previous contract had a budget of $1.4 million.

According to Boise State Director of Media Relations Mike Sharp, this budget increase was based on a cost analysis made by the City of Boise and BPD, which they found to be insufficient in covering the resources needed to properly serve the university.

“We agreed with their analysis and adjusted the contract accordingly,” Sharp said in an email correspondence with The Arbiter.

There has also been no apparent mention of the awareness campaign recommended by LESAC.

Shortly after the email sent by Dr. Tromp, some concerns were raised regarding the notion that student representation on LESAC seems to be lacking in its final months.

Boise Police Department squad car on Boise State campus
[Photo of a Boise Police squad car on Boise State campus]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

“ASBSU and [IESC] both had representatives on the committees evaluating options for the university,” Sharp said in an email. “Four students occupied these positions as follows: Angel Cantu (ASBSU Sept. – Nov. 2020), Em McNay (IESC Sept. – Oct. 2020), Cambree Kanala (ASBSU Nov. 2020 – end), and Jaxon Pryor (IESC Assembly Representative Nov. 2020 – end).”

Angel Cantu stopped serving on LESAC after his impeachment in fall 2020, with Cambree Kanala replacing him as the interim president of ASBSU.

Despite this, LESAC documents indicate that the committee would have submitted its report by Feb. 2021.

One current IESC officer explained that IESC had felt an overall sense of frustration and disappointment with the university’s decision.

“It’s one of the things that seems to keep happening with Boise State, especially with administration and higher-ups, is they tend to make decisions, and not a lot of us [students] know about those decisions. We didn’t know anything about it until it had been finalized, and the papers were signed.”

With the newest contract being approved by both the university, BPD, the City of Boise and the Idaho State Board of Education, BPD presence on campus will remain for at least another five years. 

However, this does not mean that the discourse surrounding police will come to an end.
Following the police response to the Boise Towne Square Mall Shooting and the death of Zachary Snow during a police response, it’s apparent that the role of police at Boise State, as well as within the larger Boise community, will remain in the spotlight now more than ever.

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