Letter to the Editor: Campus Police responds to criticism

To the Editor:

To the Campus Community:

In recent weeks an editorial (Friction between press, police not helping public, Sept. 15 edition) and a letter to the editor (Campus Police lacking in treatment of reported sex-crimes by Mr. Michael Lavelle, Sept. 22 edition) have been published in The Signal criticizing the Office of Campus Police Services in its response to requests from the media as well as calls for assistance from a victim of a crime. While one of the main duties of Campus Police is to uphold the laws of the Constitution, including freedom of the press, it is also the duty of this office to offer a response to the recent submissions in The Signal.

The first issue that was raised was that of the dissemination of information and the relationship between the press and the Office of Campus Police Services.

It is the standard operating procedure within the Office of Campus Police Services, as well as most other law enforcement agencies, to refrain from commenting on matters still under investigation, in order to preserve the integrity of the case from beginning to end. As such, all media inquiries are referred to the Office of College and Community Relations.

The Office of Campus Police Services also follows the standard operating procedure of referring all media inquiries made after an investigation to the Detective Sergeant for Campus Police Services. This allows all inquiring individuals to have access to the same information. It is beneficial for one spokesperson to be responsible for disseminating information to the press and the public. This practice also eliminates conflicting and/or opinion-influenced information from being released. It is the duty of this office to offer only the facts regarding investigations, which are relayed by the Detective Sergeant. All other officers and representatives, by refusing comment and referring inquiries to the Detective Sergeant, remove the potential for personally biased or opinion-influenced information of being released.

There are certain situations where Campus Police will not be able to comment on an investigation, even after it is closed, due to legal requirements. For example, specifics regarding an investigation cannot be disclosed if the offense involves a Tier I or II sex offender as defined by Megan’s Law. Likewise, specifics cannot be disclosed regarding investigations involving juveniles, domestic violence, or sex offenses.

The College is required to disclose any threat which exists to the campus by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics. This disclosure is made in the form of a “Timely Warning,” and such a warning was made last week regarding a suspicious person on campus in the form of an e-mail to all students. One of the provisions of the Timely Warning requirement states that the warning must be issued as soon as possible after the threat has been identified. The publication schedule of The Signal does not always facilitate a rapid distribution of the warning, whereas an e-mail is instant and personal to each receiver.

The Office of Campus Police Services shares the vision of The Signal to “serve the public interest as a voice for what students need to know for their own safety,” and looks forward to continuing a mutually beneficial relationship. The media, internal and external, will continue to be encouraged to contact the Office of College and Community Relations during investigations by representatives of Campus Police in order to stay in concert with legal requirements.

We would also like to respond to the letter submitted by Mr. Lavelle.

Campus Police shares Mr. Lavelle’s passion of apprehending the suspects in this crime as well as any other crime reported to this office. However, the method of apprehending these individuals is not always easy, and does not always bear fruit. In the example in question, there were several factors which prevented the officers, including Det. Sgt. Lopez, from locating the suspects. All of these factors were beyond the control of the officers.

Mr. Lavelle mentions in his letter that it took Campus Police 20 minutes to respond to the scene of the crime, however the reason for the lengthy response was not listed in the letter. In the Sept. 8 edition of The Signal, the article regarding the incident stated that the original call for help was placed from a cellular phone. Due to a bad connection and an unclear call back number and location given, it was impossible to determine the location of the attack. The call also was initially received by New Jersey State Police, as most cellular phone calls to 9-1-1 in this area are, and had to be routed to Ewing Township, and then to Campus Police, which took some time.

After several attempts to contact the caller, as well as vehicle and foot searches, the alleged victim’s location was discovered. Campus Police was aware that the attack had taken place and that the attackers had run off. While a hasty response is warranted, sirens blaring could potentially scare the attackers into leaving campus if they were hiding, which would prevent apprehension. Also, it is unsafe to travel at speeds of over 100 mph on our campus at any time, but especially when there is no known location to respond to.

Campus Police fully understood that this situation was an emergency, but it was unclear as to what had happened due to the bad cellular phone connection. Campus community members can be assured that Campus Police responded as fast as they could, and that they did not get, “around to wandering over” 20 minutes later.

The Office of Campus Police Services has the responsibility to protect the members of the community. Every effort is made to accomplish this goal, including responding as quickly as possible to calls for help. The safety of the campus is the priority, and Mr. Lavelle, and the campus as a whole, can rest assured that writing tickets has never, and will never, take precedence over helping victims of crimes.

Mr. Lavelle criticizes the use of terminology by this Office and we would like to address these issues as well. The crime of Sexual Assault, as defined under the Criminal Justice Code of New Jersey Title 2C:14-2 is “an act of sexual penetration with another person using physical force or coercion.” There is no crime of rape in New Jersey, as rape is traditionally viewed as forced sexual intercourse, while the term sexual assault encompasses all forms of sexual penetration. In the incident that occurred on July 7, there was no sexual penetration, therefore the crime of sexual assault was not committed. Criminal Sexual Contact, as defined under the Criminal Justice Code of New Jersey Title 2C:14-3 is “an act of sexual contact with another person using physical force or coercion.” This was the description that the alleged victim gave of the incident. As such, the crime was listed as criminal sexual contact. The language is taken from New Jersey statutes, and Campus Police defining the act as criminal sexual contact was not an attempt to downgrade the seriousness of the crime or to hide facts.

We would also like to respond to Mr. Lavelle’s criticism of Lopez. Lopez made no attempt to provide either false or deliberately misleading information, and such an accusation should not be made lightly, especially without having spoken to the officer whom is being accused. In reality, prior to the July incident, the last time that someone was actually assaulted in the middle of campus (i.e. outdoors), was January 2003.

Lopez was referring to the time period of 19 months as “quite a while”, which does not seem to be an exaggeration, as Mr. Lavelle himself stated that quite a while, in his opinion, was more than a year. Mr. Lavelle is correct in stating that other incidents of sexual assault have been investigated since the January 2003 incident, however they all took place indoors, and not in the middle of campus. Every member of the campus community has the right to his or her opinion about Lopez or Campus Police in general, and this office is not trying to deny Mr. Lavelle his opinions, but instead is listing the facts so that all members of our community can develop an informed opinion.

It is not the assertion of Campus Police that an incident happening in the “middle of campus” should make the alleged victim feel any less traumatized, or that referring to them as an alleged victim minimizes their plight. All victims are alleged until a person is convicted of the crimes they are accused of, and any victim of such a crime as described above is not made to feel more or less upset by Campus Police based upon the location of his or her attack.

Finally, it is quite a serious accusation to infer that the Office of Campus Police Services, and the College in general, are misrepresenting statistics, especially those of sexual assault. Such a misrepresentation is a violation of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The College takes this legislation very seriously and reports accurately and immediately all appropriate statistics. The Public Crime Log, required by the Clery Act, is available for viewing at Campus Police Headquarters in ASB 105, and lists all crimes reported to Campus Police. Any parties interested in viewing the Public Crime Log, or discussing any safety issues with Campus Police are encouraged to contact the office via phone at 609-771-2171 or e-mail at tcnjpd@tcnj.edu. Thank you for your time and attention.

Kathy Leverton

Associate Vice President for Administrative and Environmental Services

Ray Nesci

Professional Services Specialist for Campus Police Services

Don Rizzo

Lieutenant for Campus Police Services