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viewpoint

NDSP should raise transparency

| Friday, September 19, 2014

When we consider the role of the Notre Dame Security Police, the first thing that should come to mind is its importance in keeping the Notre Dame community as a whole safe.

NDSP certainly has the power to do so — according to a statement from University, it is a fully operational police force under Indiana state law with the power to make arrests and the responsibility to conduct criminal investigations.

However, because NDSP operates within the structure of a private university, it is not required to release its police records. This is its practice, even though police departments enforcing state law are required by the state legislature to release records to the public.

The student body, as well as the general public, has the right to access the NDSP crime log through the Clery Act, a Federal law that requires colleges to disclose information about crime that occurs on and around their campus. Yet, records of other non-criminal reports are not made public, and the full police report for crimes investigated are not released either, according to NDSP policy.

University spokesman Dennis Brown cited decisions by several Indiana public access counselors that found private Indiana university police departments are not public agencies and so are not subject to the Access to Public Records Act. He said NDSP’s maintaining the privacy of its reports is “in full compliance with state law,” and we do not contest that. However, we as university students and the Editorial Board of a university newspaper want to emphasize that making police reports available upon request is beneficial to our community, increases trust and allows us to properly engage in a conversation about safety on campus.

Though the Clery Act and limited alerts from the University keep us as a student body informed about criminal activity, we still are left in the dark about how police responded to other incidents. For example, on Sept. 6, a man fell down a stairwell in Main Building and was seriously injured during Trumpets under the Dome on a game day. Several witnesses were extremely upset by the sight, and they called and emailed The Observer seeking any information we had about what happened and what condition the man was in, out of concern for him and seeking closure for themselves.

Due to Notre Dame’s policies, we were unable to access the incident report or confirm details that the witnesses had shared with us. Opacity from the University kept those concerned witnesses – and the rest of campus – in the dark and allowed rumors to proliferate. This is just one example of how the University ’s lack of transparency affects our student body.

The policy often can make any incident – tragic, shocking or even relatively ordinary – feel like it is being covered up. Legally, NDSP does not have to share the information we seek, but morally, we believe more transparency and easier access to information about incidents that matter to us and may have affected us would make our campus stronger.

We in no way want to upbraid the Notre Dame Security Police or take away from the hard work the officers do to keep our campus safe. The work of NDSP is incredibly important and valued on our campus. What we do hope is that we will be able to engage more with the University  and its police force through greater transparency and better communication.

Notre Dame often holds its students to standards higher than the letter of the law, and this is one instance where we would like to see NDSP set a higher bar for itself out of concern for the community it serves.

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