Virginia Campus Murder Spurs Calls for Better Tracking of Violent Students
College administrators, students and safety advocates in the U.S. say they are hoping the death of a University of Virginia lacrosse player will lead to the adoption of new methods for tracking violent students.
Security On Campus Inc., a King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, nonprofit advocating college safety, sees a chance to stir interest from universities and police agencies in restructuring the National Crime Information Center database, which could be updated with information about arrests of students, said S. Daniel Carter, the group’s director of public policy.
“We can’t just write off drunken, violent behavior as simply a rite of passage,” Carter said in an interview.
There is no national reporting mechanism for letting colleges know if their students are arrested away from campus, said Mike Webster, chair of U.S. government relations for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. The issue arose this week after University of Virginia student George Huguely, 22, who had a criminal past, was charged with killing classmate Yeardley Love, 22. The University wasn’t aware of Huguely’s 2008 arrest for public intoxication during which he was subdued with a Taser, President John T. Casteen III said at a May 5 press conference.
A national database might raise concern that students’ privacy was being encroached, said Ross Lawrence, 21, editor of the Cavalier Daily, a student newspaper at the University of Virginia.
“It’s a useful idea to consider, but it is a bit complicated,” the junior from Richmond said in an e-mail. “There is always a need to balance individual privacy concerns with student safety.”
While a national database may be useful to universities, it isn’t clear that police departments would have the resources to provide the information, said Marlon C. Lynch, associate vice president and chief of police, safety and security at the University of Chicago.
Creating such a federal database would need support from Congress, law enforcement officials and universities, Carter said. The federal Clery Act requires campuses to report crime data. Those statistics don’t identify individuals.
The law was enacted after the April 1986 murder of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old student who was raped and murdered in her dormitory room at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Institutions must disclose three categories of crime statistics: criminal homicide, including murder and aggravated assault; hate crimes; and arrests and referrals for disciplinary action for illegal weapons possession and violation of drug and liquor laws, said Christopher G. Blake, a spokesman for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
The association, based in West Hartford, Connecticut, has no position on the question of whether community police should be required to report students’ to universities.
At the University of Virginia, officials say that unless a student reports his or her own criminal past, administrators can’t ensure campus safety.
Huguely, a member of the men’s lacrosse squad, had a criminal past that would have led to a suspension from the team and counseling, if the school had known of it, President John T. Casteen said during a news conference on May 5.
The university will start scanning student names through publicly available records to identify those who have been arrested for unreported criminal activity, Casteen said. He didn’t explain how the school would do that. University spokeswoman Carol Wood didn’t respond to requests for an interview.
‘Note of Caution’
“You could make an argument that for the safety of the campus it would provide an extra note of caution for students to know that people have passed criminal checks,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sport, at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
“If I were a parent, that would be something I’d welcome, though a civil rights attorney might feel differently,” Lapchick said.
Off-campus violence, when it occurs far from the university, is almost impossible to track by schools, said Webster, who is also director of campus safety at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland.
“On a very small scale, some schools have either a formal or informal relationship with their host community,” Webster said in an interview. “If something happens elsewhere in the state of Maryland, there’s no way I’m going to find that out.”
Different schools handle past criminal history differently.
The University of Nebraska in Lincoln doesn’t require students to inform them of arrests and the university might not learn about the incident if it takes place outside Lincoln, said Owen Yardley, chief of the university’s police department.
“A lot of times the arresting agency wouldn’t know where they were a student,” Yardley said. “It’s more about coordination than anything.”
The University of Nebraska has had a threat-assessment program since 2001. Faculty, staff and students are asked to forward information to the police about stalking, harassment or weapons, Yardley said. Once an individual is referred, the police may then do a background check and discover arrests, he said.
Creating a database or doing background checks on students raises concerns about students’ rights, said Jarrod Chin, director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, an educational effort to prevent violence by men against women.
The program is based at Northeastern University in Boston, and Chin has consulted with every college in the Big Ten Conference and the Southeastern Conference to provide training to athletes, coaches and administrators.
“Once you know, what then?” Chin said in an interview. “Is it going to be punitive or is it going to be rehabilitative?”
Students “need a second chance and some help, but there are risks to that, too,” Chin said. “You can provide the best rehabilitation possible and they can still perpetrate violent crimes.”
Huguely pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, public swearing and public intoxication after he threatened to kill a police officer in November 2008. He had been subdued with a Taser and handcuffed during the incident, which occurred outside a fraternity house near Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
He received a 60-day suspended sentence, six months supervised probation and a fine. He completed 50 hours of community service and 20 hours of substance-abuse education.
On March 3, Huguely told police in Charlottesville that he kicked open the door to Love’s bedroom, according to court papers. Huguely “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall,” the police said in an affidavit.
Love was found face down on a bloody pillow, the police said. The right side of her face was bruised, her eye was swollen shut, and she had cuts on her chin, according to the affidavit.
To contact the reporters on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org Oliver Staley in Boston at email@example.com Janet Lorin in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org