State News

Supreme Court to decide if Davidson College can have police

Posted March 15, 2011

— The legitimacy of the campus police force at Davidson College is at the center of a case before the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Julie Yencer sued after she was arrested by a Davidson officer in 2006 and charged with drunken driving. She contends that, because the college has a religious affiliation, it cannot have police officers who can arrest suspects and enforce state laws.

A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals agreed last year, saying Davidson can't maintain its own police force. The ruling was similar to a 1994 Supreme Court decision that went against Campbell University's police force.

"When you're talking about that sort of government function, we would be loathe to give that to a religious body, and the body we're giving it to when we say Davidson College, what we're giving power to is the trustees," said the woman's attorney, Allen Brotherton.

Brotherton said Davidson requires that 24 of its 44 trustees be members of the Presbyterian Church, so the campus police force essentially answers to a religious body.

Supporters of the school say it's independent of the church and that police departments at private colleges are common around the country.

"While Davidson has affiliation with the Presbyterian Church, that affiliation is separate and apart from the primary mission of providing education," Assistant Attorney General Amy Kunstling Irene said.

"There is no evidence, no contention that Davidson's campus police force or campus police act has the effect of advancing religion," said Bradley Kutrow, an attorney for the college's trustees.

Kutrow said a campus police force is imperative to maintain student safety.

"There’s been no showing at all in this case that Davidson police have done anything other than enforce state and federal laws," Irene said.

The Supreme Court likely won't issue a decision in the case until the summer.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • bgibson3 Mar 17, 2011

    Will the State have to provide Davidson with officers? Will the entire campus be treated as a church and outside law enforcement have no right to come on campus?

  • elcid liked Ike Mar 15, 2011

    "Since they are only enforcing civil law, I don't see how this can be interpreted as advancing religion"

    Police officers are unavoidably agents of the state. They can not constitutionally be subject to the authority of religious bodies in carrying out their duties under law.

  • elcid liked Ike Mar 15, 2011

    "Yet you say a church cannot hire sworn officers."

    No, I said a church can not operate a police department. Subtle but important distinction.

  • Garner-Bob Mar 15, 2011

    Oh my god, you know many heads would explode if a Muslim institution started arresting citizens and bringing charges.

  • Iconoclast Mar 15, 2011

    Campus police are authorized under NCGS 74E, "Company Police". Campus police enforce the laws passed by local, state, and federal governments and in no way are authorized to enforce any rules particular to the hiring body. Since they are only enforcing civil law, I don't see how this can be interpreted as advancing religion. Davidson College has no authority to pass laws nor can their campus police enforce religious laws. While government can not grant special privileges to religious organizations, neither can it discriminate against religious organizations by denying the same rights that are given to other groups.

  • Leftwing Mar 15, 2011

    so she was driving drunk and now is saying "not fair". Really? Get a life.

  • NotFromHere Mar 15, 2011

    "Churches may hire all the private security guards they wish to protect their property, maintain order within the boundaries of that property, etc. Those guards may effect citizens arrests within the confines permissible by the laws of the state in which they operate, but they may not be sworn police officers operating under the onus of the state." elcid892

    That's interesting you say that since our church hires Apex police officers to monitor the ground and direct traffic during Sunday church services. They wear their Apex police uniforms and drive their Apex police cars. Yet you say a church cannot hire sworn officers.

  • R from Raleigh Mar 15, 2011

    Gosh! A whole lot of lawyers on golo. But jokes aside, the tone and respect in most of the comments is so much better then other articles I've(and we) have seen debated. A lot of disagreement, but done with respect. Hope it continues. A model for other debates.

  • elcid liked Ike Mar 15, 2011

    Apologies, dlk, I misread your argument. Police officers are sworn agents of the state / officers of the court, imbued with arrest powers within their jurisdictions that are not dependent on being "on the job" (i.e. being paid). It's a 24/7 proposition. As long as a police officer remains sworn, he may make an arrest within his jurisdiction at any time.

    The church in that instance is not maintaining its own police force (i.e. it has no say in how the officer performs his duties). It is merely paying him to perform his function as permitted by law, but has no discretionary ability / power to dictate how he performs that function.

  • RonnieR Mar 15, 2011

    When assisting under 15A-405, the assistor has the powers and immunities of the officer that request the assistance. Also workermans' comp from the employing agency of the officer requesting assistance.