Campus Security: rights and responsibilities

In light of actions by Campus Security this year, it's important to consider what powers Campus Security has over students.

A Campus Security car

On Monday 25 September, two National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members entered their offices in the Margaret Telfer Building to find members of Campus Security confiscating their property. The officers ripped down NTEU posters and removed union-related material such as membership forms, stickers and badges from their workspaces.

USyd NTEU branch President Kurt Iveson complained to University Human Resources on the same day. According to his letter, “When staff tried to stop [the officers] doing this, the security staff informed them that they had been directed to remove material with any reference to any trade union from the workplace.” In response, the University admitted the incident had taken place, but said it was a mistake and apologised to the NTEU and the affected staff members. Some of the items were returned that Friday, though many of the posters were crumpled and ripped. When Honi asked the University about the incident, a spokesperson gave no specific response about the incident.

The NTEU incident came just over a month after Campus Security personnel entered the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) offices and took student-made posters advertising the September 13 NTEU strike. As Honi reported at the time, the University’s comment only addressed the removal of posters that students had already put up on campus, and not their entry into the SRC office.

Campus Security services are provided by Sydney Night Patrol and Inquiry Co (SNP Security), whose other clients include Sydney Airport, the Federal Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Energy Australia. Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, the University is required to publish a register of any contracts it has that are valued at more than $150,000. According to this register, the University’s current contract with SNP Seurity started on September 1, 2015 and is set to end on December 21, 2021 with an estimated amount payable of $30,524,700. A University spokesperson told Honi, “The contract has allowed security staff to conduct regular patrols across University campuses. These patrols are conducted 24 hours a day to help with the safety of staff, students and visitors.”

In light of the NTEU and SRC incidents, Honi asked the University about the extent of Campus Security’s powers. The questions addressed how and why students can be removed from campus, if personnel have to identify themselves or wear uniforms when giving orders, whether students have to show identification if requested, whether Campus Security have the authority to confiscate personal items from people or their offices, and the potential consequences when someone fails to follow an order from Campus Security. Honi also requested access to any set of policies or procedures setting out the powers of Campus Security personnel.

The University spokesperson’s initial response was: “Our Campus Security Unit (CSU) is primarily focused on student, staff, and visitor safety. Security staff conduct regular patrols across campus 24 hours a day and have a close working relationship with NSW Police. As per the (Campus Access) Rule 2009, any person who engages in offensive conduct while on University lands may be asked by a University representative to leave those lands. They may then be apprehended or the matter referred to police.” 

A later comment from the spokesperson added, “There is no legal requirement for security personnel to wear uniforms, however, they must identify themselves and be able to produce a valid security licence if asked to do so. The University is entitled to refuse or remove any sign which is offensive or has been the subject of a complaint, at its discretion, as stated in the Advertising on Campus Rule. This is assessed on a case-by-case basis. If the matter is covered under the Campus Access Rule 2009 and the person refuses a security officer’s request to leave University grounds, security will likely refer the matter to NSW Police.”

The University of Sydney (Campus Access) Rule 2009 “confer[s] upon the University certain powers in relation to persons coming onto a campus or other property occupied by the University”. It sets out the circumstances under which University representatives, including Campus Security officers, can give out a “Termination of Licence Notice”, i.e. a written notice revoking their right to be on University land. One such circumstance is “unlawful entry” — coming onto the premises without the University’s consent or staying after being asked to leave. “Offensive conduct” — behaving in an offensive manner after being asked to leave the University — is another. The rule also allows Campus Security personnel to apprehend anyone who commits an offence while on University land and refuses to give their name and address and bring them to  the police. The rule also suggests that Campus Security can informally, i.e. verbally without a Termination of License Notice, ask anyone to leave campus for any reason.

The University of Sydney (Student Discipline) Rule 2016 also sets out some rules regarding student conduct, with some examples relating to conduct with Campus Security. Part 6.3 allows University staff or “affiliates”, including Campus Security, to require students to temporarily leave a part of the University for a number of reasons. These range from a belief that a student’s conduct is impairing others’ ability to study or work all the way to a belief that removing them is necessary to protect the health and safety of the others or prevent serious disruption or damage to property. Part 2 defines misconduct, which can include refusing to identify oneself or produce a student ID card to staff or affiliates, failing to comply with reasonable directions, and failing to leave a class, building, or part of the University’s lands when asked. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does provide some answers about how students are required to act in relation to Campus Security officials. Penalties for misconduct range from reprimands and fines to suspension or expulsion.

While these rules clarify how the University expects students to act, they say little about Campus Security’s responsibilities to students beyond outlining the reasons they can be asked to leave campus and that Security Officers have to identify themselves and provide a valid security license if asked. Given the NTEU incident was a mistake, perhaps clarifying some of Campus Security’s powers would prevent such issues in the future.

Note: This is an updated version of an article from our print edition released on Tuesday, October 24. It has been updated to reflect additional comment from the University which was received after our print deadline.

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