Lawmaker: Should Utah’s Universities Have Police Departments?

Feb 4, 2020, 7:36 PM
Lawmakers are considering a new bill that asks the Utah State Board of Regents to study and make re...
Lawmakers are considering a new bill that asks the Utah State Board of Regents to study and make recommendations on how to provide public safety services at the state’s eight public colleges and universities.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Should Utah’s colleges and universities have their own police departments?

That was just one of the questions lawmakers want studied as part of a new campus safety bill that advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said she is following up on last year’s successful campus safety bill that addressed concerns following the murder of University of Utah student-athlete Lauren McCluskey.

She said students shouldn’t be concerned with jurisdictions and boundaries when they call for help.

“It’s important to get these communications as fast as possible,” Iwamoto said. “Not have confusion — Do I call 911? Do I call the campus police? Do I call the Salt Lake Police? Do I go to the marked phones on campus?”

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City.

McCluskey, 21, was shot and killed while walking home from class on Oct. 22, 2018, by an ex-boyfriend who was hiding the fact that he was on parole and a registered sex offender.

Her death came after weeks of harassment that she reported to campus police. Dispatch recordings revealed she also called the Salt Lake City Police Department to voice her concern, only to be referred back to campus police.

Right now, Iwamoto said there are different record systems and different dispatch systems among campus law enforcement and surrounding police departments. She said that victims are under enough stress and need unified assistance whether they are on campus or not.

“Do they have the right knowledge and the right information so that they can find help in a seamless manner?” Iwamoto said in an interview with KSL. “Because we want to make sure that with law enforcement and everything there’s seamless boundaries because it just doesn’t stop at the campus boundary.”

The bill asks the Utah State Board of Regents to study and make recommendations on how to provide public safety services at the state’s eight public colleges and universities.

Specifically, the bill directs the board to look into “the benefits and disadvantages of an institution employing campus law enforcement compared to local law enforcement providing public safety services on an institution campus.”

At the hearing, a representative for Utah’s System of Higher Education said they appreciate the approach of the proposed legislation.

“What it creates is an opportunity for us, over the interim, to really take a deep dive into law enforcement and campus safety,” said Spencer Jenkins, the board’s chief of staff.

Jenkins noted that law enforcement is very different on a college campus compared to traditional law enforcement.

“Obviously, student safety is a very large and complex set of issues,” he said.

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Lawmaker: Should Utah’s Universities Have Police Departments?