D.C. City Council is considering a bill that would potentially grant University Police unprecedented authority in making arrests on public spaces within the campus boundaries. The new measure could affect students by allowing more crimes to be kept within the University justice system.
The “Campus Police Force Cooperative Act 2002,” currently in the City Council Judicial Committee, would permit campus police departments to enter cooperative agreements with the Metropolitan Police, allowing UPD to assume more law enforcement responsibilities.
“We are looking to clarify our jurisdiction,” said Dolores Stafford, director of UPD. “It is not the intention to limit MPD presence. We are looking to make our officers’ time as valuable as possible.”
Stafford said that although UPD has the authority to make arrests and deal with violations of the law on University property, they are required to contact MPD for assistance when dealing with other crimes such as noise violations and traffic accidents.
Stafford argues the current procedure is a waste of MPD time since UPD can deal with most situations that arise on campus.
“It would extend our jurisdiction,” Stafford said. “Our officers are trained and have the legal authority to arrest people on our University property. We are only asking for more authority in our existing patrol area.”
Local residents, though, are concerned the measure will limit MPD presence on campus and compromise their safety. Ronald Cocome, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said the new rules amount to a double standard for students and residents.
“We have grave concerns about this bill. It has very serious ramifications,” Cocome said. “Our (Metropolitan) police protection has already been limited. Given past history, we don’t believe that it will get any better.”
The most important issue at stake for students is the expanded protection afforded to them by the University’s police and judicial system. The bill would extend UPD’s discretion in handling more cases, allowing more student violations to be kept in house.
Cocome said the University is using joint jurisdiction to conceal the scope of offenses committed by students, a move that undermines the University’s image with residents.
“They are trying to cover up what happens,” he said. “They try to make the University appear as if it is an important part of the community.”
Currently, when UPD deals with a student violation of District law, the officer and the circumstances of the crime determine what happens to the offender. Most misdemeanors, including minor drug and alcohol violations, are referred to Student Judicial Services, which keeps a record of the crime within the University.
These crimes, though reported to the federal government, are not reported to MPD. While this practice prevents students from acquiring criminal records for crimes committed on campus, it also skews local crime statistics.
Distribution of MPD officers on patrol routes is partly based on crime statistics as recorded by MPD; crimes referred to SJS are not factored in, said Captain Michael Jacobs, assistant district commander in MPD’s Second District.
Residents said the practice amounts to a double standard, shielding University students while making the neighborhood appear safer than it actually is.
“When people are old enough to go to a university, they are old enough to know what the laws are and when they are breaking them,” Cocome said. “There is a double standard in handling student and non-student cases, and there shouldn’t be. It’s not fair that the law is unequally applied.”
Stafford said MPD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have encouraged the handling of small misdemeanor crimes by the University’s judicial systems like SJS and UPD rather than burdening the city and federal criminal justice system with a myriad of small crimes.
“At a minimum, (UPD) is deterring crime,” Stafford said. “No one can deny the value of having our department in this 20-square-block area. No one can deny the high level of security and crime deterrent value (the UPD presence) provides for this campus.”
If the bill passes and an arrangement is concluded between the two police forces, UPD will still use MPD facilities for processing and detaining suspects. UPD officers would require only minimal training to familiarize them with the changing jurisdictions and responsibilities.
Cocome, who said he fears the increase in UPD jurisdiction will limit MPD presence within the 20 square blocks of the Foggy Bottom campus, said residents’ security will be compromised.
“The University police are not as highly trained and not as highly paid as the MPD and they are not unionized,” Cocome said. “Students as taxpayers are also getting cheated in their right to police protection.”
Despite resident concerns, MPD said their patrol assignments would not change if the bill passes.
“I can’t see that this is going to make any difference in what we do,” Jacobs said. “We will still have the same manpower in (the GW area).”