State News

Supreme Court to decide if Davidson College can have police

Posted March 15, 2011 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated March 15, 2011 4:03 p.m. EDT

— 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.