Ask ELi: What’s the Jurisdiction of MSU Police?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

MSU police can frequently be seen off-campus, sometimes stopping drivers.

Editor’s note: Several weeks ago, an ELi reader wrote in to ask about the relative jurisdictions and funding of the MSU and East Lansing police departments. A draft of this “Ask ELI’ response was written last week for use this week. The appearance of two armored MSU Police vehicles at yesterday’s protests in Lansing and East Lansing makes it more timely, as ELi is now receiving questions about those vehicles.

Green-and-white MSUPD SUVs and dark blue ELPD ones can both be seen driving around in East Lansing. So where does one department’s jurisdiction begin and the other’s end? Who is running things when rowdy sports fans burn couches in Cedar Village?

These are questions that came in from a reader.

Who polices East Lansing? Who polices campus?

ELPD operates within the City of East Lansing, whose boundaries can be viewed here. While MSU lies within these municipal boundaries, ELPD’s Interim Chief Steve Gonzalez explained, “the East Lansing Police Department does not operate nor take enforcement action on the campus or other MSU properties. That area is covered by the MSU police department.”

According to Captain Doug Monette of MSUPD, “The border roads for the main campus are Michigan Ave., Grand River Ave., Hagadorn Rd., Sandhill Rd., College Rd., Jolly Rd., Harrison Rd., and Kalamazoo Street.” MSUPD can patrol and enforce laws anywhere the university owns property and on border roads.

But Monette further explained that, “MSUPD officers are also sworn Ingham County Deputies so the jurisdiction covers all of Ingham County.” 

Departments within Ingham County call upon neighboring police forces for help sometimes.

Gonzalez explained, “MSUPD is called on for assistance when we experience sports related civil disturbances that we often see during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments. MSUPD requests our assistance during MSU Football season. ELPD officers work traffic control points and stadium assignments during home football games.” (Read more in this ELi special report from a year ago.)

In practice, MSUPD polices off campus to some degree without asking prior permission of ELPD. ELPD does not police on campus without being specifically asked to do so by MSU.

Yesterday, MSUPD provided two armored vehicles that were used by the Ingham County Special Response Team in downtown Lansing and at ELPD headquarters. The officers getting in and out of the MSUPD armored vehicle with a hatch included officers from ELPD.

Alice Dreger for ELi

MSUPD’s armored vehicle at ELPD yesterday, with the Ingham County Special Response Team members standing nearby.

Why does MSU have a police force so much bigger than East Lansing?

East Lansing currently has about 54 sworn police officers and MSU PD has over 90. The simple reason for this difference is that MSU believes it needs that many and has dedicated the funding for it.

East Lansing’s leaders would like to have more officers – East Lansing is well below the officer-per-citizen average in the U.S. But East Lansing City leaders have determined the City cannot afford many more (although more hiring has been happening since the income tax was instituted).

Looking at relative resident population, in 2017, ELi broke down the number of permanent residents in the city in advance of the referendum on income and property taxes. Citing the 2010 census, ELi found that “East Lansing had 4,811 family households and 9,963 non-family households.”

At that time, City staff placed the year-round population of the City at approximately 19,500 out of the total academic-year resident population of about 49,000.

MSU reports that it has about 50,000 students (about 39,000 undergrads and 11,000 graduate students) enrolled in its programs. But the majority live off-campus. US News and World Report states that only 39 percent (about 20,000) of MSU students live on campus.

Those figures would approximately match what ELi reported in 2017: about 20,000 people in East Lansing are “permanent” residents, and about 30,000 are students here for school living within the ELPD jurisdiction.

Of course, the reality is complicated. On-campus students work, party, and drive off-campus and so have run-ins with ELPD. Conversely, off-campus residents interact with MSUPD while on and off campus at times.

Correction, 10:54 AM, June 2, 2020: we previously reported that this question was from a reader who identified as “a person of color.” It was brought to our attention from the reader that the person does not identify as a person of color. The article has been corrected to reflect that.

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ELi has a special section dedicated to our current reporting on East Lansing Policing. See it here.

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