Loyola University received more bad publicity this past week when it was accused of discriminating against one of their students on the basis of his profession. He was a cop.
It occurred this past Wednesday when Sergeant Josh Collins of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office attended a class in “Law and Morality” dressed in SWAT fatigues. He’d been attending classes there in criminal justice for eight years and normally wore plainclothes but didn’t that day because he was too busy to change. He was also openly wearing his sidearm.
In a lengthy Facebook post on the subject, Sgt. Collins explained what happened next: “Shortly after my arrival, a fellow classmate complained to the professor of their uncomfortableness of having an armed police officer in the class. Mind you, I have sat in the same class for the last six weeks in civilian clothing.”
“My professor then called the police,” Sgt. Collins continued. “Of course I was not privileged to either of these conversations as they took place behind my back. My professor then pulled me out of class and told me that he had called the police based on the student complaint [.]”
“The police obviously never came and told him over the phone that I was perfectly within the law.”
Loyola subsequently issued a statement contradicting some aspects of Sgt. Collins’ account. First, it claimed that the complaining student didn’t realize he was a police officer because of his SWAT fatigues. Secondly, it claimed that only university police were contacted to verify school policy, and that it was they who asked the professor to verify that Collins was law enforcement.
Irrespectively, one can understand why Sgt. Collins felt that he was being singled out. A person in SWAT fatigues would normally be presumed to be law enforcement, and a great many cops these days tend to feel that they’re being socially pilloried.
“As a police officer,” Sgt. Collins explained, “I feel as though I must hide my profession in order to obtain a fair education.”
Discrimination on the basis of occupation is a real thing, although it is generally illegal, if frowned upon. Lawyers like myself are often discriminated against in housing because it is believed that we’re quick on the trigger to sue – and then we prove it, by suing the people who discriminate against us.
Levity aside, police concern about discrimination is an old trope. In one old episode of ‘Dragnet’ from the late 60’s, fictional LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday was attending night classes when he witnessed a fellow student in possession of illegal narcotics and arrested him, as department policy required.
Friday’s professor found out and was livid, accusing him of staking out the class and violating the privacy of those around him. The professor tried to remove Friday from the class, and even put the matter up to a class vote, only to have one student who happened to be a lawyer point out that it was illegal under California law to force Friday out of class based on his profession.
With the recent incident at Loyola, however, the issues are not so stark. There are no state or local anti-discrimination laws I am personally aware of that would protect Sgt. Collins. Furthermore, he was ultimately given special treatment insofar as it wasn’t actually legal for him to carry on Loyola’s campus.
You see, Loyola University abuts Holy Name of Jesus School, a primary school. As I’ve pointed out previously, the federal Gun Free School Zones Act bars possession of a firearm within a 1,000 feet radius of a primary or secondary school. Off-duty police officers are not exempt. Because pretty much all of Loyola’s main campus falls within 1,000 feet of Holy Name, it is technically illegal for Collins to carry there.
The ultimate truth is that Sgt. Collins ultimately received preferential treatment based upon his profession, even if the original complaint was driven by prejudice against cops.
Police certainly do experience ill-treatment based on their profession, but they also receive widespread dispensation even when their conduct is illegal. Ordinary citizens don’t get that consideration, particularly with respect to firearms. The bottom line is that If Collins hadn’t been a cop, he’d probably be in jail.
The Louisiana Supreme Court recognized in State v. Nelson, 367 So. 2d 317, 318 (La. 1979), that “[t]he carrying of an unconcealed weapon is not a special privilege or advantage enjoyed by a police officer.” Rather, “[e]ach citizen is guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms not concealed on his person.” The reality, however, is generally assumed to be the opposite.
I understand that police are sensitive to attacks on their profession of late, and certainly the prospect of a policeman being harassed about wearing a firearm on a college campus is fodder for that. However, the greater indignity is being arrested, not merely confronted, and that it an affront more typically reserved for you and me.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.