‘We Will Respond,’ U of U Launches Independent Investigation into Murdered Student, Campus Safety
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The University of Utah announced on Friday that a team of three former law enforcement officials had been selected to conduct an independent investigation into the recent murder of a student and also into overall campus safety.
The two-part review comes after the Oct. 22 shooting death of 21 year-old student Lauren McCluskey. Police say her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, 37, shot her multiple times in a school parking lot.
“We have committed to Lauren’s family that we will do everything we can to learn from this in the hope of preventing such a tragedy from happening again on our campus,” said University President Ruth V. Watkins at a media briefing Friday morning.
Before her murder, McCluskey had reported to campus police that Rowland, a convicted sex offender, had been harassing her—even demanding money in exchange for not releasing compromising photographs.
Watkins said the third-party review will be led by former Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen. Another former commissioner, Keith D. Squires, will also join the team along with Sue Riseling, the executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
“I would commit to you that this is going to start right now,” Nielsen said.
Watkins said the team will have the freedom to investigate and will be granted access to all individuals and information they request. Nielsen said they are already looking into specific questions.
“Whether or not Lauren’s concerns were taken seriously? Whether or not there was an appropriate report to the parole board? When the knowledge of who this guy was came available?”
Retired detective and domestic violence expert Justin Boardman expects that a major focus will be on what campus officers told McCluskey when she reported the harassment.
“We’re going to see if there were options presented to her,” Boardman said. “So, I’m sure they are going to talk to the initial officers that took those reports, ‘Did you offer any victim assistance?’”
The two reviews have different timelines, Watkins said. The report on the McCluskey case will be completed no later than Dec. 17. The report on overall campus safety will take longer and isn’t expected until the spring of 2019.
Even while the reviews are underway, the university wants to send a clear message to any student dealing with security concerns
“If in doubt, reach out,” Watkins said. “We will help. We will respond.”
In a document shared with the media, university officials identified the following five areas of campus safety that will be evaluated:
- Evaluating policies that guide how campus entities handle and report issues related to student safety.
- Effectiveness of recent actions to enhance safety on campus.
- Areas of improvement, if needed, in student housing.
- Additional opportunities and resources for safety and security training and education for students, faculty and staff.
- Identifying innovations in safety and security measures adopted by other large public universities, particularly those in urban settings, that could be implemented at the University of Utah.
In addition, the university said that the following actions are being taken immediately in order to improve campus safety:
- The U’s Housing and Residential Education program will evaluate its policies and practices. It also will provide staff and student leaders with additional in-depth training on how to respond to and manage routine and emergency situations and resources available to them.
- The Office of the Dean of Students will increase communication and trainings for faculty and staff about resources available to help students.
- The Office of Equal Opportunity will provide additional training on reporting guidelines across the campus.
- The university has, and will continue, to make a robust investment in security cameras and lighting on campus.
- Commuter services will provide more communication to students about the option to park in “A” lots—which are closer to campus buildings—after 3 p.m.
- The Department of Public Safety has provided detailed training to its detectives on case management to improve consistency and level of detail. It also is evaluating its practices to provide more timely and efficient response services as well as how it prioritizes cases.
Anyone with information or tips about the case or with concerns about safety can submit information confidentially to the review team through anonymous email addresses. Those wishing to provide information about the McCluskey case, can email: ansr.me/UDeptPSReview. To communicate information about campus safety, email: ansr.me/CampusSafety.
“In light of the tragic circumstances that led to these reviews, I know that all of us look upon this as a solemn duty,” Nielsen said in a prepared statement. “We will do our best to honor Lauren McCluskey’s memory by working to provide the safest possible campus for the university’s students, faculty, staff and visitors.”
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