June 12, 2013

Town/Gown Police Cooperate During Campus Emergency

Tuesday’s campus bomb threat highlighted the challenges and advantages of two police departments working in the same jurisdiction. Officers from both the Princeton Police Department (PPD) and the Princeton University Department of Public Safety (PUDPS) were called upon during the evacuation of some 6500 University staff and employees from the campus. And, as per recently agreed upon protocol, Princeton PD was asked by the Princeton University DPS to act as a support agency in the ongoing investigation.

Just last week, Princeton Police released a redacted copy of an Agreement of Operating Procedures between PPD and PUDPS. The document was redacted to exclude details of police response strategies and protocols that if made known could endanger officers and the public, said Princeton Police Captain Nick Sutter, who has been heading the department since Chief David J. Dudeck went on leave.

Designed to provide additional mutual investigative support and increase the effectiveness of communication between the two departments, the agreement clarifies existing procedures and responsibilities.

At a special meeting for members of the press on Monday, June 10, attended by Mayor Liz Lempert and Town Administrator Bob Bruschi, Mr. Sutter spoke about the document.

“The first thing to clarify,” he said, “is that this is not a contract, it is an agreement designed to clarify the relationship between two police departments. The Princeton University Department of Public Safety is not under the jurisdiction of the Princeton Police Department.”

Mr. Sutter took pains to point out that campus policing had changed over the past 15 years and that such an agreement had become necessary in order to clarify who does what and when.

“PU now has more of a fully fledged police department,” said Mr. Sutter. “This is a non-binding document. Officers need clarity and this document does that; it formalizes the relationship between two police departments.”

One difference between PPD and PUDPS is that officers of the former carry guns and those of the latter do not.

At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Sutter, who was with the former Borough Police Department for some 19 years before consolidation in January, explained that the PUDPS had evolved from a security department into a law enforcement agency. “That evolution has created a need for clarification. With consolidation, we’ve been revisiting the relationship and developing a new model, one that is not based on an either/or approach and is cooperative in nature.”

“One or the other of us will be designated as the primary investigator with the other in a secondary supporting role,” said Mr. Sutter. The relationship would be similar to the way in which the police departments of neighboring municipalities work together and share resources, he said. “If we need a police dog from West Windsor, for example, they would share that resource with us,” he said.

With respect to campus police, the agreement specifies that they will take all routine service calls for incidents that happen on their property but “if there is a public safety issue, a critical incident in progress, say a kidnapping or a threat with a deadly weapon, then the Princeton Police will respond,” said Mr. Sutter. “When the situation is under control, we will then share investigative tools with the campus police.”

Routine Service Calls are defined as “lockouts, transports, building checks, medical calls, welfare checks, door alarms, fire alarms, maintenance calls and other calls of a similar nature.”

The Agreement is in two parts, one is a list of Points of Understanding, which mandates communication between the two departments. The other is a checklist of responses. It states that PPD and PUDPS “have concurrent police jurisdiction over those geographic areas of the Princeton University campus and its vicinity which fall within the political subdivision of the Town of Princeton.”

The document also calls for joint training “in relevant areas to the extent reasonable and practicable” and covers statistical reporting such as the Uniform Crime Report statistics and statistics for Clery Act crimes (homicide, robbery, burglary, rape, aggravated assault, arson, motor vehicle theft) and arrests for violations of drug and alcohol that occur on the campus and in the campus vicinity.

The document includes a jurisdictional response map designed to “facilitate clarity for each department” and “a list of responsibilities for service calls and for investigations.” The purpose is to make it easier for the officers of both departments to determine what their responsibilities are when in the field. Neither the map nor the list of responsibilities, has been released on the grounds of public safety.

Asked to explain why recent studies have shown a discrepancy between the number of sexual assaults that have taken place on campus and the number reported as per the Clery Act, Mr. Sutter responded that he had looked into the matter and was satisfied that the explanation lies in the fact that not all sexual assaults are reported to the police and to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Many are responded to by counselors on campus, and there is no requirement for victims of sexual assaults to report to the police. If, on the other hand an assault is reported to PUDPS, there is a requirement that the assault to be reported immediately to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. He said that he felt confident that there was nothing to suggest a cover up by the campus police regarding the number of sexual assaults on campus.

He also mentioned that 911 calls and how they are handled is a topic for continued discussion.

Ms. Lempert reiterated that the agreement provides “clarity” for police and university public safety. “This has been on the to do list for some time,” she said, “and we are excited to have an agreement in place as is the case with most college towns.”

The mayor said the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office had reviewed the agreement and were supportive of it. “Uncertainty doesn’t benefit anyone,” she added.

“Things are changing and mutual aid agreements exist between the police departments of neighboring municipalities,” said Mr. Sutter. “This is similar except that here we are co-existing in the same jurisdiction.”

To allow for future change, the document records that both PPD and PUDPS agree to meet periodically to discuss issues of mutual concern and to review the agreement annually and make adjustments as needed.