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December 4, 1970
Honorable Daniel J. Evans
Governor of the State of Washington
Olympia, Washington 98501
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 154
This is written in response to your request for an opinion of this office on a question relating to the duties and responsibilities of the various county, city or district law enforcement and fire fighting agencies to provide police and fire protection during civil disturbances occurring on state‑owned premises, e.g., one of our state college or university campuses. Specifically, you have asked whether any legal distinction is to be drawn, in terms of the extent of those duties, between civil disturbances occurring on such state‑owned premises and those occurring elsewhere within the territorial jurisdiction of the particular local government.
Essentially, this same question (with respect to the scope of a city's obligations) was previously considered by this office in an opinion dated July 18, 1947, to the Division of Municipal Corporations (copy attached) in which we said:
"Within the boundaries of the city there is no distinction between state property and property of other individuals insofar as the obligations of the city to provide police and fire protection are concerned. A city is a political subdivision of the state, exercising a part of the state's sovereignty, and state property within the boundaries of the city is not to be regarded as something outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the city, but is, in every sense, within the area of municipal jurisdiction. There should be no necessity for the state to enter into any contract with the city for fire protection since such protection should be furnished as a part of the regular activity of the city."
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
Moreover, the conclusion stated in that opinion was subsequently relied upon by this office in three later opinions which you will also find attached; i.e., letter dated December 14, 1960 to the President of Western Washington State College; letter dated August 2, 1962 to the Comptroller of Eastern Washington State College; and letter dated March 23, 1966 to the Business Manager of Central Washington State College.
And now, once again, we have reviewed this prior opinion and have found no reason to depart from its conclusion‑-absent any specific legislation to the contrary governing a particular factual situation. In simplest terms, our research has disclosed no generalized authority, either at common law or by statute in this state, which draws any legal distinction between state‑owned property and property owned either by other public agencies or by private individuals, insofar as is concerned the obligation of the immediate governmental unit within which the property is located to provide police and fire protection.1/
Within the confines of this proposition, the authority of the legislature to alter the role of local government in the area under consideration must be understood. By its enactment of legislation substituting some form of state obligation for that of local government, the legislature could in the future cause a distinction to exist which doesn't exist at the present time‑-between the obligations of local government toward civil disturbances occurring on state‑owned premises and those occurring elsewhere. However, what we are speaking of here is a total substitution of state for local responsibility, and not the mere authorization of certain activities by state law enforcement (or fire protection) agencies on either a concurrent or a secondary basis with local authorities.
By way of illustration of this point, we take note of the fact that the legislature, in RCW 28B.10.550 ‑ 28B.10.555, has authorized the various state colleges and universities to [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] establish special "on campus" police forces.2/ However, there are no standards prescribed in these statutes for the size of any such campus police force; nor is there any provision that once established, the force must be large enough and sufficiently trained and equipped to be able to cope with any situation which might arise. And most importantly, there is no provision in these statutes which negates the basic obligation of the municipalities in which the colleges and universities are located to provide law enforcement protection. Thus, while it may be said that such campus police forces as have been, or may be, established under this legislation represent an initial "line of defense" insofar as law enforcement on the campus is concerned, the obligation on the part of local municipal government to supply law enforcement protection (in the event the campus police become unable to cope with a situation) continues unaffected. In other words, absent legislative specification to the contrary, the establishment of a campus police force does not relieve local government of its responsibilities; it simply furnishes a continuing police force close to the facilities to handle everyday normal events, within its capabilities.
Other examples may also be cited of existing legislation granting limited law enforcement authority, within the scope of their special concern, to other agencies and personnel of state government. See, e.g., RCW 43.51.040 and 43.51.170 (state park rangers); RCW 46.08.150 (traffic control on state capitol campus); RCW 77.12.060 ‑ 77.12.120 (game protectors); RCW 75.08.190 and 75.08.200 (fishing inspectors); RCW 38.32.010 et seq., and RCW 38.38.004, et seq. (offenses by National Guard personnel); RCW 43.43.035 (security of the governor and governor-elect by the state patrol); and RCW 43.43.037 (security for both houses of the legislature). As in the case of the state colleges and university "campus police", [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] the law enforcement forces provided for in these statutes may properly be regarded as representing initial "lines of defense" within their respective territorial or subject jurisdictions‑- in accordance with such formal or informal arrangements as may be made between these state agencies and local authorities; however, again, as in the case of RCW 28B.10.550 ‑ 28B.10.555, supra, nothing contained in any of these statutes purports to divest local authorities of their responsibilities because of state ownership of the premises upon which a particular offense is committed.
Accordingly, in summary, our answer to the question which you have posed (as stated at the outset of the opinion) is in the negative, in the absence of any legislation to the contrary; and no such contrary legislation exists at the present time in this state.
We trust this will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
JOHN W. HAYDEN, JR.
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/On the other hand where state‑owned premises are located outside, but adjacent to, an incorporated city or town the situation is somewhat different. Here, the performance of law enforcement or fire fighting services on a contract basis has on at least one occasion been provided for by the legislature. See, RCW 72.01.190.
2/Under this statute, the members of such campus police forces are granted powers such as are possessed by peace officers and sheriffs generally, but they are permitted to exercise those powers only upon the ". . . state lands devoted mainly to the educational or research activities of the institution to which they were appointed." See, RCW 28B.10.555 (2). The only exception to this geographical limitation, as provided for in subsection (3) of this latter statute, is that such officers may pursue and arrest beyond the limits of their university, if necessary, persons violating such rules and regulations relating to pedestrian and vehicular traffic and parking as have been adopted by the particular university under RCW 28B.10.560.