Washington State U. Police Can't Patrol Dorms

Court ruling says students have a reasonable expectation of privacy in halls.


The state Court of Appeals in Washington ruled last month that Washington State University police officers have no legal authority to patrol dorm hallways, the Spokesman-Review reports. The three-person panel noted that students on a dorm floor share bathroom facilities and other common areas and do, in fact, have an expectation of privacy. "Because of the intimate nature of activities in the hallway—most remarkably, towel-clad residents navigating the hallways to and from the shared shower facilities—it is reasonable to hold that this area is protected," the court said.

The ruling relates to a 2006 case in which a campus police officer—who was investigating a burglary and heard music and voices while patrolling the dorm—tried a "ruse" to draw suspects into the hall, "covering the peephole, knocking, and saying, 'Let me in, this is Matt.' " The officer eventually identified himself, was let in, and found stolen property—a laptop and guitar—in the room. One student was charged with burglary but the charges were dismissed after a judge determined the arresting officer had overstepped his authority by eavesdropping at residents' doors.

In response to the 2006 dismissal, Washington State amended its regulations, explicitly giving its police officers authority to roam the hallways; now, the school and its public university brethren—who all have conducted such dorm patrols—are determining their next move.