On Jan. 21, Representative Paula Miller (D, Norfolk) presented House bill 2490 to the General Assembly, which if passed would require campus police departments across the commonwealth to hand jurisdiction of cases involving sexual assault and death over to local police forces.
“This is not an assault on campus police,” said Miller. “But you can’t ignore that campus police work for the administration, and if they were unsure and thought a case would bring undue attention to the university they would not be as inclined to investigate as an organization that is detached.”
Miller became interested in the issue when a woman approached her about her daughter who had been raped at the University of Virginia. The woman felt like the campus police were not helping the investigation and wanted to change the language of the Virginia’s jurisdiction laws.
The victim in this case was not helped by campus police, according to Miller, and took herself to an emergency room. However, after hours of attempting to get help on campus and four additional hours in the hospital’s waiting room, physical evidence could not be recovered.
“In this case if it had been investigated thoroughly, the physical evidence would have been able to show the crime,” Miller said.
The victim will give testimony at the hearing, scheduled for Feb. 4. Campus organizations that saw similar bills pass in Tennessee and West Virginia will also give testimony.
According to Susan Knick, assistant vice president for public safety, the University of Mary Washington already has a good working relationship with local police.
“I cannot think of a time, ever, when we have contacted them and they have not offered immediate assistance,” Knick said. “The relationship we share with [Fredericksburg Police Department] is extremely special to us.”
Currently, the UMW police have the authority as whether to investigate crimes internally or seek outside help.
“Our police officers are fully trained and certified law enforcement officers of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Knick said. “There is no difference in the qualifications between our police or those serving in the city or any other jurisdictions of the commonwealth.”
According to Knick, the UMW police evaluate the need for outside help based on the nature of the crime and their ability to adequately staff an investigation while still meeting the safety and security responsibilities of UMW’s campuses.
“Currently, as a public institution, there is a process already in place and very well known to Virginia public schools for investigations and other law enforcement support to be offered by the Virginia State Police whenever we ask for such, and we do call upon them for that support,” Knick said.
Senior Megan Myers supports the bill.
“I’ve always heard complaints about how slow [the campus police] are to respond,” Myers said. “A lot of people are not confident in them. This is more a matter of comfort than it is whether they can handle it themselves.”
According to Miller, the bills’ largest opposition will come from campus police forces.
“I think the obstacle is campus police thinking we are trying to usurp their power and say they are not qualified,” Miller said. “That’s not what I’m saying. This is to give [victims] a level of comfort especially in sexual assault that they can rest assured that their case will be investigated thoroughly.”
“There are implications for campus law enforcement as well as for local law enforcement agencies if it is passed,” Knick said. “The nuances of this bill have yet to be fully vetted. It will be interesting for all of us to watch the movement of this legislation.”
The bill would amend the section of the Code of Virginia dealing with jurisdiction to say:
“The chief law-enforcement officer of a public or private institution of higher education, or his designee, shall immediately notify the local law-enforcement agency of the locality in which the institution of higher education is located of (i) the death of any person on the property of the institution when such person is medically unattended and (ii) any report alleging that a rape has occurred on the property of the institution. Upon notification, the local law-enforcement agency shall assume responsibility for leading the investigation. The campus police department and all other employees of the institution of higher education shall cooperate with the local law-enforcement agency conducting the investigation and shall provide any assistance requested by the local law-enforcement agency.”