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1948 - 2023: The history of the ASU Police Department

January 12, 2023

Established by the Arizona Board of Regents in 1948, the Arizona State College Patrolmen began serving the campus community of just over 10,000 people. These trailblazers were non-sworn, unarmed security patrols.

As more and more people relocated to the Phoenix metropolitan area and Arizona State College’s enrollment continuously grew into 1951, the need for more patrolmen increased. At the request of ASC President Grady Gammage, the patrolmen became sworn officers through a partnership with the Tempe Police Department. The added authority and training allowed the patrolmen to provide adequate public safety support to the growing campus community.

The Tempe PD partnership stayed in place for over a decade, but a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1962 stated that the newly renamed Arizona State University campus was not actually part of the City of Tempe. Commissions for the ASU Patrolmen were moved under the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, where they remained for the next five years.

The move to independent policing

By the late 1960s, the ASU community had grown to 25,000 students, and covered 310 acres. The growing demand for more patrolmen to serve the campus strained county resources, and the need for the university to establish an independent police department became clear.

Led by ASU President Homer Durham, the university developed legislation to authorize the creation of an independent state police organization to provide public safety services to campus. The proposal was approved in 1967, and the ASU Department of Public Safety (ASU DPS) was granted independence, under the purview of the Arizona Board of Regents.

The newly independent agency expanded to 22 sworn officers, including three women, which was highly innovative for the time.

Like the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, ASU kept growing. Enrollment reached 40,000 by 1975, and an additional 10 officers were brought in to patrol the now 600-acre campus. Growth in the department and university continued for another decade before inevitable expansion of a new campus took place in 1984.

New campuses, new agencies

When ASU’s West campus was opened in 1985, a small group of ASU DPS officers were sent to patrol the campus part-time. However, by 1990, the need for a permanent presence on the expanding campus was clear, and the ASU West Police Department was formed.

Just six years later, ASU expanded again, this time in the East Valley. After 52 years in operation, Williams Air Force Base was being decommissioned in 1993. Over the next three years, the land and infrastructure of the former base would become the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway International Airport, the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Williams campus, and ASU’s Polytechnic campus (known as ASU East at this time).

Anticipating continued growth for the university and areas surrounding the new campus, the ASU East Police Department was born.

International accreditation

All police departments across the nation are reviewed and measured against national, state and organizational standards. For an agency to earn and maintain accreditation as a public safety authority, standards must be met and continually shown throughout the lifetime of the department.

Despite losing officers to expanding satellite campuses, ASU DPS continued to thrive in Tempe and earned accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in 1997. This internationally recognized standard demonstrated to the ASU community, as well as fellow law enforcement colleagues, that ASU DPS met the very highest standards of the field.

In 2016, the ASU Police Department earned another accreditation from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, making it one of the few dually accredited police departments in the State of Arizona.

Consolidation and further expansion

By 2003, university and ABOR leadership sought to improve the efficiency of policing on ASU campuses. The three independent ASU agencies were merged into one, simply known as the Arizona State University Police Department, with the department headquarters on Tempe campus.

The department saw further expansions with the opening of a substation on the Downtown Phoenix campus in 2009, and with the placement of staff on the newly opened Downtown Mesa campus in 2022.

In total, across all campuses, the agency serves a population fluctuating between 60,000 and 100,000 people on any given day. This makes ASUPD’s jurisdiction one of the 20 largest communities in the State of Arizona, and one of the 10 largest on-campus communities in the country.

With more growth and expansion on the horizon, ASUPD looks forward to new challenges, and adding more chapters to its storied history.

Adam Wolfe

Police Information Officer
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