Investigations of theft, assault and even rape are handled by University of Dayton police who sometimes take people into custody or mete out punishment without any of the oversight expected of other police forces.
Under Ohio law, private university police forces have and use broad discretion on whether to issue a warning, a criminal citation, or hand over a student to the university’s internal disciplinary board. Absent an arrest, the details of any alleged wrongdoings go unknown to the public under the law that makes private university police different from traditional police forces.
While this helps to protect UD’s image and allows campus police to treat students with kid gloves — though non-students must be either charged or let go — it also prevents the public from the ability to scrutinize police.
In fact, the university doesn’t even disclose what drugs, weapons or other items it seizes and keeps in its evidence locker. University police ignored requirements that they account for seized property with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Frank LoMonte, executive director at the Student Press Law Center, said several states have started to take action to make private university police more accountable.
“I think people are awaking all of a sudden to the realization there are these police forces running around with an enormous amount of power that don’t have to abide by the same standards of other police departments,” he said.
Not giving out details of incidents leaves the public unaware of whether their community is safe or if they should protect themselves, he said. Is an assault allegation a stranger mugging people or two fraternity brothers who got into a fight?
“At the very least, private college police ought to be giving out their incident reports,” he said. “If the public doesn’t know the details of what crimes are happening, then they can’t take sensible precautions to protect themselves.”
University officials responded to a list of questions from the Dayton Daily News with a prepared statement that said university police make the public aware of dangerous situations and that officers decide whether to press charges or refer a matter for discipline based on the seriousness of the violation and the level of cooperation with police.
“(UD’s) enforcement philosophy starts with education, which includes behavior modification for violations of the student code of conduct and minor violations of the law,” the statement said.
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day riot left Kiefaber Street littered with broken bottles, 11 cars including a police cruiser damaged and brought officers from surrounding jurisdictions to quiet the early-morning disturbance.
Over that weekend, 24 non-university students were charged through the courts, mostly for underage drinking, public intoxication and disorderly conduct. Fourteen UD students received court citations, but 31 faced discipline only through the university for charges including underage behavior and disorderly conduct, meaning the actions they’re accused of are not public.