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House committee questions safety on LU, MU campuses

House committee questions safety on LU, MU campuses

December 7th, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

Some lawmakers are concerned about assaults — especially sexual assaults — that have happened on Missouri's college campuses.

Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, D-Ferguson and chair of the House Special Committee on Urban Issues, said Wednesday he was interested in changes schools have made after assaults reported at the University of Missouri's Columbia and Kansas City campuses and at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

Curtis was frustrated no one from the MU System president's or Columbia campus chancellor's offices came to testify at Wednesday's committee hearing.

However, LU Police Chief Gary Hill testified his officers determined an assault had occurred in a case involving two LU students, where a woman initially was found passed out from what appeared to be the over-consumption of alcohol and she possibly had used drugs.

"The following Monday, we were contacted by a parent, who claimed (the student) had been sexually assaulted," Hill explained. "She couldn't give us any information about what happened, and when she was at the hospital, there was no rape kit done."

However, their investigation ultimately determined there had been an assault, and the case was turned over to the Cole County prosecutor's office.

"The best way for us to be able to prevent assaults on campus is through communications with our students," Hill said, "passing through information that certain behaviors and certain decisions can ultimately lead to situations."

Hill has been Lincoln's police chief for a year, and he and his staff have had to rebuild students' and employees' confidence in LU's police after the chief's job remained vacant for more than a year.

Improved relationships and police investigations actually resulted in an increase in reported assaults from 2015, two reports, compared to last year's six reports.

He said 13 officers are responsible for covering eight residence halls and a live-in population of about 1,100 students — with the school's total population of students, faculty and staff being more than 3,000.

His $1 million budget is $20,000 lighter than last year, Hill said, because of state budget cuts, resulting in the loss of a full-time employee.

Curtis later told the News Tribune: "If one FTE made the campus less safe, whether in a residence hall or on campus, it's still a bad situation — and we don't want to put any student in harm's way.

"As a sitting legislator, if we're not looking out for the Missourians who aim to be future, successful Missourians, then we're not doing our job."

Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, questioned Hill's statistics.

"It's ridiculous to think there were only six assaults," Ellington said.

Hill countered: "If we ask the right questions, we'll get answers even from people who don't want to report it."

An 18-year veteran of the University of Missouri-Columbia Police, Chief R. Douglas "Doug" Schwandt reminded the committee members "sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in our country." He added, though, sexual assault statistics vary from year to year.

Some cases never get to a prosecutor, he said, because "some don't want law enforcement involvement at all" while others pursue an investigation, then decline to prosecute.

Schwandt also said his 50-officer department and Columbia's 165 police officers cooperate well to determine where crimes occur and how they're investigated.