Millersville University police have quite the quandary:
The officers have no authority over what is arguably their own turf.
A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling has stripped their jurisdiction over “public” roads that pass through campus.
Millersville University and Pennsylvania’s other state-owned schools are searching for solutions to the loophole in police coverage.
Millersville University police already had to drop charges in two recent DUI cases that involved traffic stops on the affected roads.
Joseph Kenneff, a Millersville-based attorney who represented those DUI defendants, cautioned other cases could be due relief.
“Certainly, the Legislature could amend this,” Kenneff said. “But for the time being, this is the law.
“They don't have jurisdiction on these roads.”
Even if the roads are surrounded by campus property, according to the ruling.
At Millersville, high-traffic throughways — George Street, Frederick Street and Shenks Lane — are encompassed in the ruling.
Peter Anders, Millersville University’s police chief, says the high court viewed the issue through an “absurdly narrow lens.”
He noted that Millersville, and many other state-owned universities, were built and established before roads were constructed.
Private roads that run through campus aren’t affected.
“We are complying with the ruling to not exercise authority on the roadways that traverse campus,” he said recently, “while the university considers remedies.”
Anders sees two solutions:
— Wait for an amendment to the ruling.
— Reach an agreement with Millersville Borough and their police force, which now has exclusive authority to make arrests.
Millersville Borough police often back up university officers on calls, but charges in the affected areas were filed almost exclusively by university police.
Going forward, university police must contract with Millersville Borough to police the affected roads. Nothing has been worked out, as of Friday, but Anders said the university is preparing a draft proposal.
“We’re working on a service agreement with the borough,” the chief said Friday evening.
University officers will still police incidents that occur on campus grounds: dormitories and other buildings, athletic fields, parking lots, private roads.
But they have no authority over traffic stops for alleged crimes or violations that happen on public roads.
That includes speeding or headlight violations. Accident investigations also will be affected.
DUI cases, too, according to Kenneff.
Two of his clients — one a Millersville student, the other a college-aged driver — were stopped in September on George Street for traffic violations.
University police then became suspicious that the drivers were under the influence and ultimately filed DUI charges.
The Superior Court made its ruling on Oct. 24.
While police had authority to stop the vehicles, university officers couldn’t charge for crimes that happened on the roadway.
Charges "from that point on is fruit from a poisonous tree,” Kenneff said.
Charges already resolved in court aren’t expected to be affected by the ruling.
The Superior Court made its ruling on an appealed case from Slippery Rock University.
In that case, a DUI arrest was made during a speed-trap detail on a public road that cut through Slippery Rock’s campus, much like George Street in Millersville.
Also interesting in the high court’s decision, state-aided universities — such at Penn State and Pitt — were allowed a 500-yard buffer between campus and “public” roads where they can make arrests.
State-owned universities have not yet been granted that luxury.