Northeastern Disorientation

NUPD and Campus Police Militarization: A Call to Action

 · 7 mins read

Defund NUPD and the NEU Accountability Task Force are groups of students from across the undergraduate and graduate schools who are committed to defunding NUPD, reinvesting those funds to support students, and taking anti-racist action. They work together to push for lasting change at Northeastern. Find them at @defundnupd on Instagram and

As Angela Davis said, "There is an unbroken line of police violence in the United States that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery, the aftermath of slavery, the development of the Ku Klux Klan." Indeed, policing in America has its roots in slavery and white supremacy. These roots began as slave patrols or paddy rollers: groups of white men, many of whom were Klan members, who surveilled Black people who were enslaved. These practices weren't restricted to the South. For instance, in 1713, New York City required enslaved Africans over the age of 14 to walk with lit lanterns at night to be easily identified. In addition to policing’s history intertwined with slavery, modern American policing was primarily designed to protect property, end working class strikes, surveil those labeled dissidents, and otherwise maintain political control in a world of industrial capitalism.

The first campus police force began at Yale University in 1894. Though other campuses also gained small forces, they functioned more like “glorified custodians,” keeping watch over university property and taking on the role of parents in handling students who, for example, defaced property. Typically, officers came from other professions and were not current or former police officers. This changed drastically in the 1950s and 60s with the Great Migration of African Americans north to urban areas and a dramatic rise in campus enrollment. Later, the social upheavals of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement led campus staff and faculty to become very concerned about keeping control of their campuses while avoiding incidents like the Kent State massacre. Administrators chose to resolve their concerns by hiring former police officers as “directors of campus security,” promptly reshaping campus police to fit the mold of municipal police forces.

When the War on Drugs began in earnest, administrators also began worrying about the security of their mostly urban, homogenous, and white campuses. Private police departments took on the hallmarks of modern municipal policing such as the centralization of authority and the militarization of patrol practices. Importantly, campus police officers' duties expanded significantly during this period, and their roles on campuses resembling "small cities" became very similar to that of municipal police departments. But unlike municipal police departments, which are at least nominally subject to basic voter accountability through local government elections, the campus chief of police was held accountable only to top university officials. Campus officers saw themselves as protecting young white students from "outsiders," or anyone unaffiliated with the university who were, and continue to be, perceived as the biggest threat to student and campus safety. Today, for example, 87% of campus police have arrest powers, many have Tasers and riot gear, and 90% of campus departments are armed with guns. Because of the way campus police came to be what they are today, communities of color bear the brunt of the cost of campus police militarization.

Over the past 40 years, municipal police forces have demonstrated a frightening trend towards militarization. While many police departments purchase military-style equipment from the commercial market, this trend towards militarization has also been fueled by federal programs. One such program is the Department of Defense's 1033 program, which began in 1997 and permits the Defense Secretary to transfer excess military-grade equipment to local law enforcement at no cost to the recipients. In the past 23 years, the 1033 program has shipped over $7.4 billion of Defense Department property to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies.

Campus police departments have also become increasingly weaponised in recent decades. In addition to city and state police departments, K-12 schools and universities nationwide have received equipment from the 1033 program. Some school districts have received M-16 rifles and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles or "MRAPs." The militarization of campus police forces is particularly frightening in cases of private universities like Northeastern. Campus police at private universities have the power to make arrests, conduct searches, and use lethal force. However due to their "private" nature they are exempt from public records laws and pose a plethora of other legal issues, including infringements on the public’s constitutional guarantees of due process, free speech, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

One example of NUPD's militarization was seen in news coverage of their 2015 purchases of and plans to equip officers with semiautomatic rifles. However, we do not know the full extent of the NUPD’s budget, personnel, or military-grade inventory. Access to this information is both important to ensure oversight of these private campus police forces, and can be a powerful organizing tool. Over the past few months organizations like the Muslim Justice League and Families for Justice as Healing have effectively used information on the massive Boston Police Department budget in their calls to defund the police. This data is crucial for the public to have, but due to Northeastern’s private status it is not readily accessible. On July 22, 2020, students with Defund NUPD delivered a petition (viewable at to NEU administration and NUPD Advisory Board members with 649 signatures from students and other community members demanding transparency from NUPD.

NUPD is supposedly tasked with protecting students. However, this protection is seemingly only extended to white students. NUPD and other private campus security personnel criminalize the on-campus presence of students of color and Black residents of Roxbury and surrounding neighborhoods, who face routine harassment from police. Transparency from NUPD is just an initial step along the path to defunding NUPD and fulfilling the demands of Black-led student groups at Northeastern, such as #BlackatNU ( and #BlackVoicesMatter (@bvmneu). As incoming students, we urge you to think critically about how Northeastern University harms its neighboring communities through policing and gentrification, take action to demand transparency from NUPD, and support the Black-led student groups calling for the disarming and disbanding of NUPD.