A bill that would require Utah’s public colleges to craft plans detailing how campus officers should respond to cases of sexual assault and relationship violence passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday.
Spurred by the shooting death of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, the measure focuses on training school police to recognize the warning signs that experts say were missed in her case.
“This kind of outreach to campuses and communities will hopefully help with a cultural shift,” said Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, the sponsor of SB134. “We need comprehensive, consistent safety plans.”
McCluskey, a 21-year-old track athlete, was killed outside her dorm on Oct. 22 by Melvin S. Rowland, a man she briefly dated and who died hours later by suicide. In the weeks prior, McCluskey had gone to campus police several times to report Rowland was a registered sex offender, had lied about his age, and was harassing and extorting her since they broke up. Officers did not prioritize her concerns.
In fact, according to a later review of the university’s response, the school’s police never recognized the potential for escalating interpersonal violence.
Iwamoto’s bill would require all eight of the state’s public universities, as well as the technical colleges in Utah, to develop campus safety plans that specifically address sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence. And officers would need to undergo training on how to appropriately handle those cases.
McCluskey’s mother, Jill, said Tuesday that she supports the legislation. “It is too late for Lauren, but we hope this bill will save lives of other students,” she said.
Each school would also need to publish information on where victims can find resources, how the institution will inform campus about a crime and how students can request a security escort. Members of all student groups — including sports teams, clubs, fraternities and sororities — would need to complete training annually on safety and preventing assault.
The University of Utah has previously said the bill “ties in nicely with what we’re trying to do” to improve. The independent review team that examined the school’s shortcomings in the McCluskey case provided a list of 30 fixes, and the university has begun putting those in place. They include having the police department hire more officers and a victim advocate; develop a working relationship with existing victim advocates elsewhere on campus; and train all police staff about interpersonal violence issues.
Iwamoto has said “one of the biggest things” she wants to see if her bill passes is better communication among departments in each school and with agencies outside of campus.
In McCluskey’s case, two of her friends told staff at the school’s dorms that Rowland talked about bringing a gun to campus. Housing employees did not pass on the information to university police.
Additionally, McCluskey twice reached out to Salt Lake City officers, worried the U.’s police department wasn’t moving fast enough. She was referred back to campus each time.
And campus police never reached out to the Department of Corrections, which knew that Rowland was on parole and some of the allegations could have violated his terms of release.
In those examples, Iwamoto has noted, having conversations could have helped save McCluskey’s life. Her measure, which had no debate Tuesday, now passes to the House for consideration.