When a Drunk Student is Arrested: So What?

This post is not for everyone, but I wanted to state that I don't believe officials at the University of Virginia understand all the facets involved in creating a law that would mandate student arrest information be reported.

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 Love 
President 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? 

Absolutely not. 

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.  
2) When students are arrested outside of their college town--it can be difficult to track. 
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. 

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. 
   3) Many universities lack the infrastructure to manage the volume of information created.
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.
In sum, I am hopeful that universities and law enforcement in Virginia can develop a system that helps prevent future campus-related murders and violent crime. 

I discussed this case earlier this week in this post.

The photo was used from here.


LadyFi said...

I agree with you - building trust and relationships and having resources available are very important.

Audrey Allure said...

It seems time consuming, but hopefully that could be a way to prevent those violent crimes.

Momma Fargo said...

You should be running the university. SO WHAT is right. I guess they are scrambling to appease everyone including donors and trying to save face or do something in her honor. YIKES. Where are their heads?

Matthew Rush said...

This is of course a very tragic story, and it would be nice if there was a neat clean way to avoid this kind of thing, but you make several good points as to why this is not a very good solution.

Herding Cats said...

There definitely needs to be some sort of system in place.

presious said...

Personally, It seems a simple fix to this problem would be for "all" arresting officers, whether university officer or neighboring city/state officers, to send a copy or carbon copy of the arrest to his home town police station.

Sounds and seems simple, but I have no idea how to make this happen. It seems it is a matter of communication which is often the case in many institutions whether it be the basic family or a business.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I agree with what you have written all the way. Also, I think the insight on -- sending this information does not mean that the school will take the burden of using it. They don't think like law. They wish stuff like this would go away.

Mostly I think they are making this law because they feel they have to do something and they haven't thought it through.

I think the university is blaming the system to deflect responsibility.

That is a sad comment, but I think a lot of our laws are like that.

Thanks for reporting,
Ann T.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Huh, this is really interesting and I think you're right in that it might not have the desired effect. One question I have is- if they do report a student arrest- what the heck is the University going to be expected to do with about it?

T. Anne said...

I too agree it sounds like the University is more interested in saving face at this point and not really digesting their plan of action. Tragedy.

Luisa Doraz said...

Team effort is always the best. I do agree. :) Have a great weekend.

Elana Johnson said...

This is a well-thought out post. Kudos to you for that.

Portia said...

Excellent points. It's a parent's worst nightmare to send your child away to college and have something happen. I think we all have this sense that somehow the university community has a responsibility in watching after these fledgling adults.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Excellent post. You make a lot of very strong arguments.

I popped over from Tara's blog to say hi when I saw that you'd been tagged.

Have a great weekend! :-)

Stephanie Faris said...

In this case, a university cannot possibly be held liable for information that was not disclosed to them. I'm sure on the college app. somewhere there's a question about criminal history. (If not, there SHOULD be.) If it wasn't disclosed at the time of application, the student who was dishonest is responsible. If it happened after application, and the police did not report to the school that one of its students was arrested, the school can't be liable. Either way, I'm sure the school has a disclaimer a mile long somewhere that students sign that absolves them of responsibility.

(You can't sue governmental bodies, most of the time...wonder if state colleges fall into that immunity?)

kvv said...

Thanks for stopping by the blog earlier!I hope you get to go there some day, too. Much worth the effort and expense.

Bob G. said...

Well said...

You'd THINK with ALL the technology at the disposal of law enforcement, it would be a LOT tougher to fall through the cracks...

Should be a simple enough problem to remedy.
You'd think, anyway.

Good post and comments by all.
Have a great weekend, Gang!

Clara said...

Once again such an informative post, Slam. Really great work, and I happen to agree with all your points. You did a serious study of the case and the impacts of the decisions taken, it was brilliant. Have you thought about sharing this with authorities? Or at least the dean. I dont know how it works , but theres no way they cant find this helpful.

AB HOME Interiors said...

I understand your point. I feel that this is a knee jerk reaction to soothe a wound that is too little too late. I think the law has good intentions but will be hard to mandate and find personal to run it.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

Like several previous commenters, I agree that the move by the UVA administration reflects both their incredulity that something like this could happen among their students and their desire to somehow make up for the death of this young woman. But, of course, nothing can make up for her death. Your post has me thinking about how much legislation is driven by emotion rather than study and logic. Thanks for the food for thought, Slamdunk.

Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer & Crazy Woman said...

You have SO many good points. Agree, agree, agree. Well said!

Oz Girl said...

Sadly, I can see the problems inherent in passing such a statute, as you've outlined here for us. And I agree with the other commenters, it appears the university is just going through the motions to try to save face. A sad situation indeed.

carma said...

It does seem like a difficult thing to track and as you say the school might actually shrug at a couple misdemeanors. This will be an uphill battle. Often it is the friends closest to the victim who hold the key.

Anonymous said...

students are supposed to study, not to drink. LOSERS

Nicole, RD said...

Poor thing, she was so beautiful. Sad that it was her boyfriend.

I think making student arrests would help. So long as it was really public - say in the school newspaper (students ALL read the Daily Illini at the University of Illinois). If kids are reading that actions are legally addressed, maybe they'll think twice before being so negligent and stupid, especially under the influence. You're right, though...relationships with officials are KEY! Or even having a force of university law enforcement to address the problems and safety of the university itself. And not "bike cops" addressing jay-walking - the real deal.

tam pham said...

Totally agree with your argument. There has to be something that can be done to prevent such tragedies.

it all goes to..the more informed you are, the better off you are.