Policing inside the lines: University police say jurisdiction limits bad for public safety
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- In the early-morning hours of Nov. 4, a University of North Dakota Police officer pulled a student over for speeding. After failing a breathalyzer, the student was cited for a DUI on Cambridge Street, a road that runs through...
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- In the early-morning hours of Nov. 4, a University of North Dakota Police officer pulled a student over for speeding. After failing a breathalyzer, the student was cited for a DUI on Cambridge Street, a road that runs through campus, but according to case documents the case was dismissed in court this month because the officer had operated outside his jurisdiction.
This was one of several incidents UND Police Chief Eric Plummer pointed to as the reason he wants clarification regarding his department's jurisdiction after a July 2015 North Dakota Supreme Court Ruling limited it to "at its institutions."
"Good, bad or indifferent, we need a fix to this," Plummer said. "Whether that be the Legislature limits us as the courts have or the Legislature grants us the authority to act in and around our campus community, that's what we need."
In the case of the UND student, court documents state the case was dismissed because the state failed to prove the property where the arrest occurred was owned by UND while the student proved the fraternity houses the arrest occurred near were privately owned. The court also said UND police had other options, including calling the Grand Forks Police Department, establishing a joint powers agreement with them or making a citizen's arrest.
But university police say many cases aren't that simple.
The ruling barred university police from establishing agreements with each other. Plummer said calling city police to take over cases adjacent to campus was a short-term solution immediately following the ruling but the state's attorney said that arrangement was too close to an official agreement between departments.
"And if we don't have the jurisdiction to arrest, we don't have the jurisdiction to stop them either," UND Police Sgt. Danny Weigel said.
While a citizen's arrest is possible, Weigel said it can put the officer at risk. If the officer acts as a citizen and is injured in any kind of altercation that results, that officer may not meet the requirements for workers' compensation. Also, if the civilian is injured, the officer could not be protected legally by the department and his status within it because he was acting as a citizen.
Plummer said the Office of the Attorney General issued an opinion extending jurisdiction to "property near campus," an opinion the local district court had the ability to disagree with and ignore in the case of the student last fall.
"My concern is not whether we're going to police all over the city," Plummer said. "My concern is keeping this a safe environment and how are we supposed to do that if we don't know if we can stop a person running right through campus?"
How it works
Prior to the ruling the university police department had a written agreement with the Grand Forks Police Department giving them jurisdiction in a campus district, which stretched beyond UND's property in some areas and included private residences near the center of campus.
"I would make the assumption community members expect us to take action on violations that are happening in these areas," Plummer said.
About seven in 10 campus law enforcement agencies had some kind of formal written agreement with outside law enforcement agencies in the 2011-12 school year according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in 2015. The same study found 86 percent of university police department jurisdictions extended to properties adjacent to campus, 71 percent had jurisdiction in areas outside of the area around campus.
The Supreme Court ruling affected college and university police departments at North Dakota State University and the North Dakota State College of Science as well as UND.
Grand Forks Police Deputy Chief Mike Ferguson said his agency has and will continue to retain jurisdiction on campus and city police now have to decide how much of the force it will take to patrol the areas within and around campus that university police now can't.
"It is going to be an issue we're going to have to navigate through," he said. "I don't see it being resolved overnight."
Ferguson and Plummer both said university police at UND are just as highly trained as city and county police officers, while Plummer went on to note he believes his department has more of a focus on educational programs and services specifically for the campus community.
"I know some of the arguments out there are 'It's a duplication of efforts,' but it's not," Plummer said. "If that's the case, then the sheriff as the chief law enforcement officer of the county, why would that not be a duplication of efforts with city policing as well?"
Ferguson said the Grand Forks Police Department is already short-staffed so they're in the process of figuring out how to more actively police areas within and around campus.
In early February Lisa Feldner, the North Dakota University System Interim Chief of Staff, read a statement from Plummer to the Legislative Council's Higher Education Committee asking lawmakers to reverse the Supreme Court decision through new legislation.
Plummer said he wrote the note so it would be clear his officers are running into problems.
"How are we supposed to keep our campus community safe if we're observing DUIs in our area, we're making these stops and they're not being prosecuted?" he said. "It's frustrating because somebody is going to get killed. That's my main concern."
On the streets
Plummer said something called the fresh pursuit doctrine gives university police jurisdiction to act off-campus as long as they saw the crime being committed on campus, but cases are being dismissed anyway.
A university police officer stopped a speeding vehicle on the frontage road to the north of the 2800 block of Gateway Drive, the northern edge of a piece of UND's campus, in July 2015. The driver's blood alcohol content was 0.12 on the scene, higher than the 0.08 limit, and he was also cited for possession of marijuana and several things related to a loaded gun he had under the driver's seat of the vehicle. The case was dismissed in February "due to jurisdiction," according to a document signed by Assistant State's Attorney Brittney Blake.
When a university police officer saw a 20-year-old woman vomiting on a tree in the alley between Cambridge and Harvard streets in May 2015, he stopped to check on her well-being and ultimately issued a citation for underage drinking. According to a document signed by Assistant State's Attorney Haley Wamstad, she believed the officer acted appropriately and knew the incident took place before the Supreme Court ruling, but dismissed the case because the officer should have contacted Grand Forks police to investigate the crime.
Plummer said he's worried there will be a time when an officer has to decide whether to follow a driver she thinks might be drunk and wait for city police to pull the driver over because those who break the law need to see consequences.
"If not, it's a slap on the wrist and they're doing that same behavior over and over and that doesn't benefit the community or the offender," he said.
A university police officer saw a speeding vehicle on University Avenue in October 2015 and turned to follow the car but waited to initiate the stop until the two had crossed the Columbia Road overpass, something Plummer said is safety protocol.
This took them outside the officer's jurisdiction into the Altru Hospital parking lot, and despite the man's blood alcohol content being 0.218, well over the 0.08 legal limit to drive, the state did not charge him, though a document signed by Assistant State's Attorney Faye Jasmer doesn't state why.
In October, a man was stopped for speeding and blew a 0.197 blood alcohol content level on a Breathalyzer, but the case was dismissed in November because the stop occurred at the intersection of Oxford Street and Fifth Avenue North, which is adjacent to private property.
Ferguson said one solution could involve appealing some of the dismissed court cases in an effort to get a different court's opinion.
"We are looking at long-term fixes but there are no short-term fixes I can see that will help in the immediate future," he said.
Plummer is looking for answers during the 2017 legislative session. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand-Forks, and Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, have said they are in favor of drafting legislation to allow for agreements between departments.
"We want to keep everybody safe and you know what? How many lives have our officers saved in the last 30 years getting drunk drivers off the roadways?" Plummer said. "You'll never be able to quantify it but I'm sure we would have had a tragic situation if our officers hadn't been able to exercise their law enforcement authority to prohibit that person from injuring themselves or others."