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State Crime Commission rejects campus crime notification proposals

December 6, 2011 | Virginia News

Panel fails to support legislation that would require campus police to report deaths and rapes to local authorities.

Two measures that would have required campus police departments to notify outside law enforcement and the local commonwealth’s attorney when a death or rape is reported failed in votes taken today by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

However, the commission supported the development of mutual aid agreements between local jurisdictions and campus police agencies.

The commission’s actions on the failed measures will result in no recommendations about those proposals being forwarded to the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

They were part of amended legislation proposed by Del. Paula J. Miller, D-Norfolk, that would require greater collaboration between local and campus police.

Specifically, a measure that would have required campus police to immediately notify local law enforcement agencies of all deaths and reported rapes on campus -– with the same requirement for local police if they first took a report -– failed on a 5-5 vote.

Then, the commission voted down a measure 7-3 that would have required campus police to notify the local commonwealth’s attorney’s office within 24 hours after receiving a report of a death or rape.

Several commission members expressed concern that campus police agencies were being singled out, and others said they have no evidence that campus police could not independently investigate such crimes on their own.

"My issue with this is not so much the notice. Typically I get notice of these things far earlier than 24 hours," said Commissioner Jim Plowman, who serves as Loundon County commonwealth's attorney. "My issue here is singling out campus police departments. Why are we doing that? We received no information, no evidence, that these campus police departments are somehow inferior, inadequately trained or poorly staffed."

On the issue of requiring campus police to notify commonwealth's attorneys, Plowman said "you'd see a slew of them here today" if they truly felt like they were being kept in the dark. "If we truly wanted to enshire this with a 24-hour notice, I'd say it should be for all law enforcement -- not just campus police."

The commission’s actions so infuriated Kathryn Russell, who testified last month that U.Va. police mishandled the investigation when she reported she had been raped in her dorm room seven years ago, that she made an obscene gesture to the panel members while leaving the meeting room.

Miller took a broader view.

“It’s a mixed bag,” she said of the commission’s actions. “We have the mutual aid agreements, which is certainly a start. (I’m) a little disappointed that the mandatory notification failed on a 5-5 vote. Had there been more committee members here, who knows what would have happened.”

“Of course, this is the first step in the process,” she added. “It goes to the General Assembly with the mutual aid agreements, and we can add to it.”

Miller said she and other bill supporters will be lobbying commonwealth’s attorneys across the state between now and the start of the assembly.

Said Russell:

“I do wish that some of these individuals in the room today were better informed. I felt that the came with agendas ahead of time. I don’t understand why there would be a problem for mandatory notification.”

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available. Read more in tomorrow's Richmond Times-Dispatch.) 

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