Despite the good intentions, they could be launching an initiative doomed to fail.
On Tuesday, it was reported that University of Virginia President John Casteen met with Virginia's governor Robert McDonnell to discuss legislation that would mandate police agencies in that state to report to colleges and universities when students were arrested.
This is in reaction to the the recent murder of University of Virginia student and lacrosse player Yeardley Love--her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend and fellow UVA student George Huguely is charged with the crime.
Yeardley LovePresident Casteen has argued that: if university officials had known about Huguely's arrest for drunk and resisting back in 2008, the school could have been more proactive in dealing with him--hence the impetus for a new law requiring the reporting of student arrests.
Here are four problems with such a statute:
1) Most of the information collected from arrestees is self-reported.
Does an arrestee have to tell police where he/she works or attends school?2) When students are arrested outside of their college town--it can be difficult to track.
The biographical information on the arrest report is based on: voluntary participation, any identification that is inventoried, and of course fingerprint matches (well in many instances). If the arrestee does not report that they work/attend school or if the officer does not ask, it is typically marked as "none" or "unemployed" on the report.
How often is nothing or "unemployed" listed on reports?
For example, on May 13, 2010, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department (FL) arrest list includes 53 offenders. Twenty-five reported that they were employed/a student/or disabled. Twenty-eight of the defendants were listed as unemployed or the field was left blank. How many of these 28 simply did not want their employer or school listed? I would guess a significant number.
One reason why George Huguely's arrest was under the radar was that it happened not in his college town, but in a community an hour away. In the US (with some exceptions), each county prosecutes its own cases--so in general, the farther away from campus an arrest occurs, the greater the chance that it will go by unnoticed.3) Many universities lack the infrastructure to manage the volume of information created.
In addition, out-of-state student arrests would not apply to this law--even though they still could be a problem for colleges and universities.
There are at least hundreds of police agencies in Virginia, and there could be more than a thousand. They range in size from one-officer departments to big city police agencies.
Large universities could be swamped with arrest information related to public drunkenness and other petty crimes after months of reporting, and it would certainly burden the small offices on campus that are taxed to deal with student offenses.4) Administrators would need case details--as in offense and arrest report narratives and not just charge descriptions.
If administrators only receive charge summaries about student arrests, it simply would not add much value. To best assess a situation, officials would need to review the specifics of the arrest--so an appropriate response for each case could be designed.--------------
For instance, if university administrators had known that George Huguely had been arrested for drunk and resisting (two misdemeanor offenses), would the reaction have been, "ok no big deal?"
The temptation to take the arrest lightly would have been less strong if more information was available.
Is it not important for college officials to learn the specifics of Huguely's case to understand that not only was the student drunk and resisting arrest, but that he had been Tasered after threatening to kill the arresting officer and had hurled sexually demeaning threats at females on the scene?
I think so.
I believe university leaders should:
- Invest the time and energy to build relationships with law enforcement agencies in the state--in other words sell them on the system. The change is more work for police, and if police get the impression that colleges are not using the information, this system will quickly fail.
- Review case specifics by obtaining arrest/offense reports instead of just the charge summaries to understand these incidents (as stated above).
- Communicate the standards and expectations to the students so that behavior and repercussions are clearly defined.
- Expand staffing and make the resources available to on-campus disciplinary offices so that they can investigate student arrests and make the proper determination. If the university is planning to just make due with current staffing levels and hope that the loads of extra work can be handled internally, it would likely be a mistake--one that could result in the institution failing to take action prior to another violent incident occurs.
I discussed this case earlier this week in this post.
The photo was used from here.