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Police address student concerns, questions in Campus Safety Summit

| Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Campus Safety Summit featuring a panel of local law enforcement representatives was held in the LaFortune Ballroom on Tuesday evening to address issues such as sexual assault, the blue light phone system, racial profiling, excise police and general student safety.

Hosted by Notre Dame Student Government and Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), the event consisted of panelists Mike Seamon, vice president of campus safety, Keri Kei Shibata, NDSP police chief, Nicholas Canal of the Indiana State Excise Police, William Thompson of the St. Joseph County Police Department and Eric Crittendon of the South Bend Police Department.

Kelli Smith | The Observer

Representatives of local law enforcement gathered Tuesday to answer over 15 questions submitted by students.

The panelists answered over 15 public, anonymous or pre-submitted questions by students related to crime on and off campus. One of such questions regarded which police department would handle sexual assault investigations for students living off campus.

“NDSP does not take and would not take reports of sexual assaults that were off campus,” Shibata said. “Our jurisdiction is the Notre Dame campus so if a sexual assault happens on campus that’s our jurisdiction and if someone wants to report to us, then we would investigate that case.”

With Title IX, Shibata said, students have the choice to report the sexual assault case whether it happened on or off campus.

“If the student is the accused person in that case, then it can be reported to Title IX and Title IX will investigate that,” Shibata said. “That does not trigger a police investigation unless the victim wants that but it does get counted in our various statistics … and it may trigger a timely warning.”

The special victims unit, which investigates sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse crimes, offers an additional avenue students can take to report sexual assault for an investigation regardless of where the instance occurred, Shibata said.

“All our investigators go to extensive training specifically around sexual assault because it’s such an important and it’s the most common, violent crime that happens on college campuses,” she said. “ … Whether it’s Notre Dame police or the special victims unit, you’re getting high-quality investigations from people who are trained specifically in sexual assault investigations [and] who really care a lot about that.”

When asked about the “limited amount” of blue light phone systems on Notre Dame’s campus as compared to other colleges, Shibata said blue light phones are going away on a lot of college campuses because “everyone having a cell phone” has resulted in the blue light system not being used as much.

“We at Notre Dame have decided not to get rid of blue light phones, but we are selective about where we place them,” Shibata said. “ … It’s the remote [areas], the parking lots, the perimeter of campus where we tend to use the blue light phones. We very, very rarely — I can think of maybe once or twice in the 14 years that I’ve been here that those blue light phones have been used to summon help or to report a crime. So that’s one of the reasons we’re not making major investments in a lot more blue light phones.”

Some campuses have more of an urban environment where campus boundaries are not as clearly defined and there are higher crime rates, Shibata said, which is why those colleges may decide to have more of a blue light phone presence.

“We’re grateful that we don’t have those dynamics here,” Shibata said.

One thing NDSP is looking at for the future, Shibata said, is expanding the number of walk-in metal detectors used for major events.

When asked about combating racial profiling in policing and protecting people of color, the panelists emphasized the oversight and mutual “fair and impartial” training each of the agencies in the area undergoes to ensure strong relationships with the community.

“Everyone has a bias with something and [we make] sure our biases don’t get in the way we police,” Crittendon said. “We’re going to set aside our biases and treat people the way you would want to be treated. And it’s nice having a department where we’ve implemented a lot more training than they maybe have in the past … [we make] sure that people believe in us and believe in the work that we do out there.”

One of the ways the local police agencies ensure there isn’t anti-police sentiment and the community believes in them is having officers out-and-about in their respective jurisdictions building relationships, the panelists asserted.

“[Us versus them] is a big problem in a lot of departments and a lot of communities,” Thompson said. “We have not seen that here to any great degree and that’s not an accident. … Nothing we do is a secret. … We’ll tell you why it is we’re doing what we’re doing and why it’s important. That’s part of us trying to be transparent and part of us trying to be not an us vs. them part of the community.”

Other than NDSP disclosing records of arrest and incarceration, Seamon said the public can hold NDSP accountable and help prevent crime on campus by abiding by “when you see something, say something.”

“You can go to any university official — if you see something that you don’t think is appropriate or you’re uncomfortable with NDSP or any of our partners, just tell somebody and we’ll get to it,” Seamon said. “ … We would rather 100 times look into something and have it be nothing than miss the one time that it really becomes an issue.”

With excise police in particular, Canal said his agency’s job is usually working a program to curb alcohol abuse, underage drinking and illegal drug usage — which is when he typically comes across students.

“When we encounter underage individuals in bars … generally if we’re in plain clothes we’ll identify ourselves, display our badge, state who we are,” Canal said. “Generally we’ll ask for I.D., try to identify you. If you turn out to be underage, most of the time it just results in a citation. … If someone’s uncooperative, the next step above would be a misdemeanor, which that would be the same as being incarcerated as far as going on the record.”

The panelists also offered a number of safety tips regarding traffic, staying safe and being aware. Students should be aware of student resources such as the student escort service when walking alone, Shibata said, and shouldn’t bike with headphones on.

“Campus is a very open environment and that’s intentional that the University of Notre Dame wants to be a welcoming place,” Shibata said. “ … That does come with certain risks in that we don’t always know everyone who’s on campus … so we do have our officers out and around campus all the time and they are looking for any kind of suspicious activity.”

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she serves as Associate News Editor at the Observer and is pursuing a double major in political science and television with minors in journalism and computing.

Contact Kelli