Abby Sweet / Lantern photographer
Ohio State Police might soon be able to respond to off-campus crime.
According to a draft of a mutual-aid agreement between University Police and the Columbus Division of Police, University Police officers will be able to respond to crimes they see happening or have reason to believe will happen. However, University Police will not patrol these neighborhoods.
While some have said reaching a compromise has been a long process, neither the people drafting the agreement nor the police union said they are to blame.
The 20-year-old mutual-aid agreement does not allow each department to act independently in the others’ territory. University Police is therefore not able to patrol off-campus areas.
In November, President E. Gordon Gee appointed a task force which called for a new mutual-aid agreement that would allow University Police to respond to crimes occurring outside its jurisdiction.
The Columbus Public Safety Department released a seven-page draft of a proposed mutual-aid agreement. OSU responded with a one-page document that said University Police had begun to review the draft and would offer feedback on it.
As proposed in the draft, University Police and Columbus Police would have shared use of resources, which includes personnel, facilities and equipment to respond to criminal activity across jurisdictional lines.
The proposed agreement would not allow University Police to patrol off-campus neighborhoods. University Police could respond inside Columbus territory in three circumstances outlined in the draft:
• After witnessing a felony offense, misdemeanor of violence and/or theft offence or misdemeanor traffic offenses that pose immediate danger, or if there is reason to believe these offenses will occur;
• For cooperatives efforts approved by the deputy chiefs of both departments;
• In off-campus emergencies
Columbus’ Department of Public Safety is responsible for writing the draft for the mutual-aid agreement, and Amanda Ford, a spokeswoman for the Columbus’ Department of Public Safety, said the goal of the agreement is to find the best way to keep students safe.
“The overall goal is to increase safety in the University District area altogether, whether it be on campus or surrounding campus,” Ford said. “We just have to come to a compromise on what we can allow with authority in those areas in order to maintain that safety.”
Ford said the department has been working on the agreement for “a few months,” but that media coverage about an agreement makes it seem much longer.
“It seems like this has been going on for such a long time, but in all reality it hasn’t because no formal request was ever made to the Columbus Public Safety Office,” Ford said. “It all initially got started with those robberies happening, a lot was happening in the media, but no one ever approached us.”
Taylor Stepp, Undergraduate Student Government president, said he has been a supporter for a mutual-aid agreement that Nick Messenger, former USG president, began advocating for during his presidency. Stepp said he is pleased with the progress.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction. I’m glad to see that both sides are being proactive and working toward the same goal of keeping students safe off campus,” Stepp said. “It just makes sense to allow OSU Police to actually respond off campus to go across High Street.”
Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for Student Life, also said the draft showed progress.
“(I am) pleased with the progress being made, and support any efforts to enhance the cooperation between city and campus police,” Adams-Gaston said in an email. “I am confident that a greater coordination of efforts between these two fine law enforcement agencies will produce a safer environment in our community.”
Weishu Gong, a master’s student in geodetic science, said she supports an effort that will help her feel safe when stepping off campus, in light of off-campus crime.
“As long as it’s daylight and I’m inside the boundary of campus, I feel pretty safe, it’s when I step over High Street when I start to feel unsafe,” Gong said.
Stepp said the new agreement will help students feel safer walking off campus.
“Just allowing a little more leeway in the sense that we now can respond to what’s happening if we see something or have suspicions that something is happening hopefully (we can) respond to any crimes happening,” Stepp said.
Jim Gilbert, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents University Police and Columbus Police, said University Police officers are currently able to respond to crimes in these areas.
“There are procedures in place for OSU Police officers to stop and detain someone when they see a crime happening,” Gilbert said.
Jay Kasey, vice president of administration and planning at OSU who has served on Gee’s safety committee, said that while OSU Police can and do respond to crimes off campus, a new agreement will allow police to more effectively help students.
“Students have the opportunity to use OSU Police more readily, and OSU can be more effective when they do get calls … and have more authority in those situations,” Kasey said.
Daniel Reilly, a third-year in aerospace engineering, said he would feel more comfortable if University Police had more authority around campus.
“I think they’ll be more helpful than Columbus Police because Columbus has so much ground to cover,” Reilly said.
Gilbert said it is a misconception that the FOP does not support the mutual-aid agreement and that he has not seen the draft but will review the final version for any contract violations. He said a potential issue might be the provision in the current CPD contracts that prohibits contracting out to any other jurisdiction. Gilbert said concerns about officers receiving proper compensation for overtime patrolling are not part of the discussion.
“Compensation has nothing to do with it,” Gilbert said. “We make arrests all the time in shift changes … This has nothing to do with money.”
Gilbert said the FOP will be meeting with University Police within the next week to discuss the agreement but that the FOP has not been part of any of the conversations up to this point. Gilbert said that statements about the union delaying the agreement are inaccurate.
“I want to make this very clear,” Gilbert said. “We support OSU police officers to take police action, and any other officers, when necessary. We are in no way stopping them from providing safety.”
Vernon Baisden, the assistant vice president and director of public safety for University Police, said in an email that efforts to move forward with the agreement have been “positive and productive” and that people would benefit from added police presence.
“The potential agreement would be an excellent additional tool for both law enforcement agencies to utilize in our joint effort to provide a safe and secure environment in the off-campus area for students, other residents and visitors to the area,” Baisden said in an email.
Ford said that while the Department of Public Safety did not set a deadline for when the agreement would be complete, she said the goal is to complete it “as soon as possible.”