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Monday, February 01, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "A handcuffed bill on college police records in Indiana"

Updating this Jan. 14th ILB post about HB 1022, which passed the House on Jan. 21st, Margaret Fosmoe had this lengthy story in Sunday's (Jan. 31) South Bend Tribune. Some quotes:

The sponsors of House Bill 1022 insist they want private universities in Indiana to be more open with police records. The bill, they say, will create a new and stronger level of transparency. And the universities themselves, who helped craft the bill, have said they want to be more open when it comes to public safety.

The bill comes in the wake of controversies about sexual assault investigations on university campuses, as well as a lawsuit by media giant ESPN on whether police records by the University of Notre Dame should be public.

So would the bill really meet the bar its proponents tout? How much more open will the records of police forces at Indiana’s private universities really be?

In the case of one key player, Notre Dame, the answer apparently is not much more at all.

The Notre Dame Security Police department handles hundreds of calls, complaints and cases each year. But of all those, House Bill 1022 would apply to a relatively small number.

That’s because the bill does not hold private universities to the same standard as municipal police departments. It limits what information would need to be publicly released only to incidents that result in arrests or incarcerations for criminal offenses.

At Notre Dame over the past two years, the total number of arrests was 126 — or about 60 per year, according to university spokesman Dennis Brown. That represents just a fraction of incidents handled by Notre Dame police. In 2015 alone, nearly 1,300 cases were listed on the university police crime log.

What kinds of incidents would be exempt from the proposed law? In recent years at the university, for example, a student died when the scissor lift on which he was filming a football practice fell to the ground; a man on a crew cutting down trees on campus was killed by a falling tree; and a man was critically injured when he fell down a stairwell in the university’s Main Building.

In all the cases, NDSP investigated, but those matters didn’t make the campus police log, there were no police reports released and only limited details were made available to the public. House Bill 1022 would not appear to make a difference in such cases.

And even in a case leading to an arrest, the bill does not specify what level of detail must be included in reports to be made public.

Another provision in House Bill 1022 mandates that records already required to be open under federal law need to also be open in Indiana. It cites two federal laws: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, and the Clery Act — which already require all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to disclose some information about crimes on and near their campuses. It’s not clear what new measure or step House Bill 1022 is offering in these cases.

Critics such as Steve Key, executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association, have argued that the bill falls well short of creating a new level of transparency for university police forces.

Questions also have surfaced about the fact that the Independent Colleges of Indiana, of which Notre Dame is a member, helped legislators write the bill — and that some of the legislators sit on the group’s board.

“It appears that what Independent Colleges of Indiana did when they helped draft this bill is codify what they are already required to report under the federal Clery Act,” Key said.

Richard Ludwick, president of Independent Colleges, maintains that the proposed legislation is a “sea change for our institutions and for Indiana.”

“The big picture here is that records that in the past were not public according to Indiana statute, now would be,” he said in an email.

The bill would apply only to private universities with professional police departments. That includes 10 institutions: Notre Dame, Valparaiso, Butler, Anderson, Taylor, Huntington, Indiana Wesleyan, Marian, DePauw and the University of Indianapolis. It wouldn’t apply to smaller colleges served by campus security officers.

There is much more in the story.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 1, 2016 08:41 AM
Posted to Indiana Government