CHICAGO — Nearly a century ago, the first security officers assigned to college campuses in Illinois had a simple job: Lock the doors when classes ended and write parking tickets.
"In the good old days, the campus safety and security function was carried out by people who were focused on facility management," said Jeff Allison, a former FBI special adviser on campus public safety. But that role has changed, Allison said, to address more serious concerns such as sexual assaults, as well as the dreaded but more rare possibility of an active shooter on camps.
Today, most campus police officers across the country have the authority to make arrests, carry guns and patrol beyond the university's borders, something the public was reminded of when a University of Chicago police officer shot and wounded a student near the South Side campus during a confrontation this month. That also means campus police departments face the same scrutiny about how they do their jobs as their contemporaries at city police departments.
Indeed, the University of Chicago shooting has raised some familiar questions about police use of force, including why the officer didn't use a Taser instead of his gun. The answer: The University of Chicago Police Department, like most campus police departments nationwide, doesn't have them.
Prosecutors say Charles Thomas, a 21-year-old history and political science major, was wielding a metal tent stake when he approached an officer in an alley that early April evening and was shot in the shoulder. The fourth-year student suffered a broken shoulder blade and a collapsed lung, according to a statement released by his supporters. His family has said he may have been having a psychiatric episode at the time.
"The traumatic consequences of being shot by an officer of the law along with possible legal consequences and a baseline stigma against people labeled mentally ill spell out a long road to recovery for Charles and his family," the statement said.
The U. of C. officer who shot Thomas received training in programs designed to help law enforcement de-escalate situations with people suffering from mental illness, according to the university. The training instructs officers to back away from a potentially dangerous person, offer clear instructions and turn off police vehicle lights that could cause further agitation.
Thomas had not shown symptoms of mental illness before but has a family medical history that includes bipolar disorder, according to his mother.
Campus police evolve
Like at University of Chicago, most students in America can find sworn police officers carrying guns on their college campuses and in the neighborhoods close by.
About 92 percent of public colleges employed sworn police officers compared with just 38 percent of private universities, according to the most recent report released by the U.S. Department of Justice
The majority of campus law enforcement agencies, about 70 percent, have agreements with outside agencies to patrol beyond campus boundaries, according to the DOJ report, which analyzed 900 universities with at least 2,500 students in 2011 and 2012.
In Illinois, state law requires public universities and colleges to form their own police departments. And many private schools -- including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago -- have opted to employ their own armed forces with full arrest powers.
Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, said campus departments help city officers "focus on other areas of crime fighting."
"They are added visibility for CPD. ... We are appreciative of those relationships," Guglielmi said.
The rise in sworn police departments on campus can be traced in large part to the 1966 massacre at the University of Texas at Austin, said Allison, who now works at the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Before that, many schools just had unarmed security offices.
In what is considered the first modern mass shooting in the U.S., a UT student ascended a tower on campus in 1966 and sprayed bullets at the people below him, killing 14 and wounding more than 30, in a 90-minute rampage.
"It showed a vulnerability that we had to address -- that there could be shooters on our campus and it might take awhile for municipal law enforcement to respond," Allison said.
John Escalante, police chief at Northeastern Illinois University on Chicago's Northwest Side, said university police departments are effective because the officers have expertise in the staff, student body and the campus layout.
On a recent day, his officers helped a student who locked keys in her car, located the family of a young child wandering alone and monitored an anti-abortion rally, said Escalante, who retired from the Chicago Police Department in 2016 as second-in-command.
"If we were just using off-duty Chicago police officers, it would be very transient," Escalante said. "We would just get people coming in on their days off."
Campus police departments can benefit the communities they serve, but the situation at University of Chicago shows how the relationship between students and officers can also fray.
Tension on the Hyde Park campus dates to at least 2014, when students started a campaign to make UCPD more transparent. Hundreds of students petitioned UCPD to share its policies and procedures, release data on police stops and make officer complaint records accessible.
In response to community and student requests, University of Chicago in 2015 began to post details on its website about daily traffic stops and made UCPD arrest records available upon request, among other transparency measures.
Unlike public institutions, private universities with their own police departments are exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Private schools enrolled in federal financial aid programs, however, must report some crime statistics through the Clery Act, a law named after a 19-year-old woman who was raped and murdered in a Pennsylvania dorm room in 1986.
Academics have argued that campus police departments are being used to market the school as a safe learning environment, especially in large cities.
"I have direct accounts from students who said when they came to U. of C., they were told specifically that we have this big, bad police force that will keep you safe," said Guy Emerson Mount, a postdoctoral fellow at the university who has instructed undergraduates and advocates for alternatives to traditional policing.
Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for U. of C., said the police force and its extended boundaries were formed in response to community desires and needs.
By its own choice, the university released footage of the recent police-involved shooting about 24 hours after it happened.
According to the video, officers encountered a man -- now identified as Thomas -- in a dark alley near off-campus apartments after getting 911 calls about criminal damage to property.
In footage of the April 3 confrontation, someone is heard yelling, "Tase him" as Thomas walks toward an officer with a metal stake in the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue just before 10:15 p.m. About 10 seconds later, another voice threatens, "Do you wanna get Tasered?" before Thomas picks up speed and starts sprinting with the weapon toward a University of Chicago police officer, who shoots him in the shoulder with a single round.
A Taser, which delivers a five-second electric shock to immobilize a person, is only accurate within about 12 feet and would have required the officer to get too close to Thomas, said John O'Malley Jr., a former chief deputy U.S. marshal who now sits on the Chicago Police Board.
Still, O'Malley said he was surprised to learn that University of Chicago doesn't have Tasers.
"Tasers are good for someone who is being noncompliant or someone who is posing a potential threat, but once that offender crosses the threshold and has a deadly weapon in their possession, you have got to meet deadly force with deadly force," O'Malley said.
Friends and family of Thomas wonder whether deadly force was the best response, given that they think he was suffering from mental health problems.
It's not uncommon for people in college to exhibit their first symptoms of a mental health condition, said Alexa James, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness in Chicago.
"When people are out of touch with reality, they can feel very unsafe ... and they can exhibit very unusual behaviors," said James, who trains Chicago police officers on de-escalation techniques for encountering someone with a mental health crisis.
Nationwide, at both private and public schools, only 40 percent of agencies equip their officers with Tasers, the DOJ report said. That's reflected in the Chicago area where only the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago State University and Aurora University give Tasers to officers.
Loyola looked into getting Tasers in 2013 but did not add them. Northeastern has also recently considered the devices, but has no immediate plans to purchase them, Escalante said.
U. of C. does not have immediate plans to purchase Tasers, but its police department has periodically explored this idea and will continue to do so, Manier said.
Schools such as DePaul University and Columbia College Chicago hire unarmed public safety officers to patrol campus on bike and by car, among other duties, but rely on CPD for police response to emergencies.
At Columbia, former sworn law enforcement officers also monitor the campus and its buildings, which have guard stations with identification checks, officials said.
After Thomas' shooting, some U. of C. students called for disarming campus police officers, following movements at a handful of schools nationwide.
It's rare for campus police officers to shoot students, but it has happened elsewhere as recently as September, when Georgia Tech police fatally shot the president of the Pride Alliance student group. In 2015, a University of Cincinnati police officer fatally shot a motorist during a traffic stop.
The U. of C. shooting is the first involving a campus officer in more than three decades, and the first ever to wound a student.
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who also chaired a review committee for campus police, said he has not seen a pattern of the school officers misusing lethal force.
"No matter how you slice it, what happened here, its horrible and its tragic," Futterman said, referring to the Thomas case. "No one wants this to happen, but I haven't seen evidence on the U. of C. campus of an epidemic of UCPD officers shooting people."