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The Blue & Gray Press | October 20, 2018

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Commission Reviews Jurisdiction Bill

Legislation currently under debate in the Virginia General Assembly would challenge the campus police jurisdiction, if passed, in cases of alleged rape and medically unattended deaths, such as suicide or murder, at colleges.

At a public meeting yesterday with the Virginia State Crime Commission at the General Assembly building in Richmond, Representative Paula Miller (D, Norfolk) offered new wording for the bill, stating that the bill would optimally require mutual aid agreements between campus police and local police, “fostering jurisdictional cooperation.”

The bill, House Bill 2490, was introduced by Miller in January 2011 and was passed in February.

The way it was originally written would require the chief law-enforcement officer of a college or university to report any on-campus deaths or alleged rapes to the local police, who would then lead the investigation, according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System.

However, the commission was asked to review cases involving investigations of deaths and alleged rapes at colleges and universities with campus police departments among 33 Virginia colleges and universities.

The campus crime rates presented were most significantly influenced by the number of students living on campus, said Christina Arrington, senior methodologist at the commission, who gave the presentation.

Many campus police department representatives at the meeting expressed that they were not in favor of the bill the way it is written now, and instead, would prefer a more collaborative bill, like the one illustrated by Miller.

Wendell Flinchum, chief of the Virginia Tech police department and director of security, said that such a bill is “unnecessary” and would belittle the campus police department.

“Nobody will want to work for an organization that the Commonwealth says is second class,” Flinchum said.

Michael Hall, a lieutenant with the University of Mary Washington police department, said that the UMW police agrees and that they “can handle calls to UMW.”

But, he said that there have been many positive things to come out of this bill, such as increased dialogue regarding the relationship between the two police forces.

“If we need assistance, we call for it,” Hall said. “We utilize all the resources and expertise on our hands…our number one thing is the safety and well-being of the people at UMW and those who visit it.”

The Fredericksburg Police Department is neither for nor against the bill, said spokesperson Natatia Bledsoe.

“We stand ready at any time to assist UMW police with any criminal case, not just rapes or unattended deaths,” Bledsoe said yesterday in an email. “Should it be mandated by the passage of this bill, we do not feel that we would be overburdened, nor would we discontinue our current practice of working collaboratively and cooperatively with UMW police should the need arise.”

Earlier this week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch released an analysis detailing sexual assault reports at seven Virginia universities.

The study stated that out of 62 reported sex crimes in 2008, 2009 and 2010, only seven of these cases resulted in arrests and four in convictions.

According to the report, at least 40 percent of the assaults involved alcohol, either consumed by the victim, the alleged assailant, or both parties.

The Times-Dispatch noted that the universities included were of various sizes, including well-known public institutions, at least one private school and one historically black college.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010, there were 11 total forcible sex offenses reported to the University of Mary Washington campus police, according to the 2011 Annual Security Report that was released in September.

One of these occurred on non-campus property, while the remaining 10 happened somewhere on campus. Two of these occurred in 2010.

There were no reported criminal homicides at UMW in the security report from 2008-2011.

But, both Arrington and Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychology, said that rape is one of the most underreported crimes.

Arrington, in her presentation, attributed this to shame or embarrassment, fear of not being believed, confidentiality concerns, unwillingness to recount details, fear of retaliation or distrust in the justice system.

“It’s obviously much more common,” Kilmartin said. “We know that it goes on quite a bit.”

Kilmartin also said that research states that frequently, acquaintance rape, when the victim knows the assailant, is a serial offense.

“If we don’t stop them, they’re going to do it again,” Kilmartin said. “Campuses have to pay attention and deal with student misconduct, but we’re talking about a felony, and we’re not equipped to proceed with criminal charges.”

Kilmartin said that the best way to get victims to report is to make them feel safe, and work on more preventative measures.

“Where we need to put our efforts is into prevention, so it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Emily Montgomery contributed to this report.