#collegesafety | Utah Senate committee OKs bill requiring regents to study campus safety

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Regents would be required to study public safety activities on state college campuses, make recommendations to improve them and report those findings to lawmakers under SB80.

The legislation, sponsored by Minority Assistant Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

The bill would require the board of regents to coordinate with government and community organizations to study and make recommendations regarding public safety services on college and university campuses. It also requires the board to present a final report of the study and recommendations to the Legislature’s interim committees on education and criminal justice.

“Public universities, they’re like cities now, you know, so No. 1 is public safety. We need to focus students on not worrying so much about these issues and know that we’re taking these seriously so they can go to school and go do what they’re supposed to do, studying and making nice connections,” Iwamoto said.

SB80 builds upon requirements of SB134, which was also sponsored by Iwamoto and passed by the Utah Legislature in 2019 in the aftermath of the on-campus murder of University of Utah student athlete Lauren McCluskey in the fall of 2018.

McCluskey, 21, was shot and killed near her campus dorm by 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, a convicted sex offender who was on parole. The two had dated, but McCluskey ended the relationship after she learned Rowland had lied about his name and age.

Her parents later filed a $56 million lawsuit against the university alleging campus police and housing officials ignored their daughter’s multiple reports of stalking, abuse, intimidation, dating violence and other behavior prohibited under Title IX.

The 2019 legislation called for greater accountability by colleges by requiring them to develop and publicize plans to ensure those who are stalked, sexually assaulted or abused by a significant other can report the crime and get the help they need. It also required members of school-recognized clubs or sports teams to undergo bystander training.

SB80 directs the board of regents to coordinate with the Utah System of Technical Colleges, the Utah Department of Health, the Utah Office for Victims of Crime, the Utah Council on Victims of Crime, local law enforcement agencies, local districts or special service districts that provide 911 and emergency dispatch service, as well as community and other nongovernmental organizations.

Iwamoto said the reporting would determine whether crime victims on campuses have the “right knowledge and information so they can find help in a seamless manner.

“We want to make sure that with law enforcement, there’s seamless boundaries because it just doesn’t stop at the campus boundary.”

The legislation calls for study on issues such as policies and practices for hiring, supervision and firing of campus law enforcement officers; training of campus law enforcement in responding to incidents of sexual violence or other crimes reported by or involving a student, including training related to lethality or similar assessments.

Jennifer Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, spoke in support of the legislation.

“We really appreciate this approach and this opportunity to learn more about how to do a better job for survivors,” Oxborrow said.

For the first time in 20 years, Utah’s rates of domestic violence fatalities has dropped, including officer-involved shootings and suicides, which Oxborrow said can be attributed to teamwork and collaboration by law enforcement, advocates, campus public safety and others participating in lethality assessment program training.

Oxborrow said she is optimistic the rates could improve even more “with a concerted, collaborative effort with our campus police departments and our local jurisdictions that are now using, literally, the same page.”

Under SB80, the study would also include how campus law enforcement and local law enforcement respond to reports of sexual violence or other crimes reported by or involving a student, “including supportive measures for victims and disciplinary actions for perpetrators.”

Also, the board would examine training provided to faculty, staff, students, and student organizations on campus safety and the prevention of sexual violence as well as roles, responsibilities, jurisdiction and the authority of local law enforcement and campus law enforcement.


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