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Mutual aid agreement: OSU Police’s quest to cross High Street

Abby Sweet / Lantern photographer

Ohio State officials want to increase cooperation, and expand a mutual aid agreement between OSU Police and the Columbus Division of Police.

But union negotiations and interpretations in contracts could prevent University Police cars from protecting students in the off-campus neighborhood.

University Police and Columbus Police have a mutual aid agreement in place, but the agreement does not allow each department to act independently on the others’ territory.

“They can request assistance from us, and we can request assistance from them now,” said Commander Terry Moore of Columbus Police.

University Police Chief Paul Denton said the agreement, which was last updated in 1992, does not allow University Police officers to patrol the off-campus neighborhood. Denton said examples of good mutual aid and joint jurisdictional agreements could be seen across the state and country.

“When I look across the state of Ohio and the country, I see examples of mutual aid agreements and jurisdictional agreements between campus agencies and their city counterparts that are very broad and open ended,” Denton said.

Denton said the recent push to increase the mutual aid agreement, prompted after increased awareness of off-campus crime in late 2011, was a student-driven idea.

“The students themselves asked, ‘Why couldn’t University Police officers patrol their neighborhoods,'” Denton said. “And I think that speaks volumes to the relationship that we have with our students, the trust that they put in us, our level of service that we give to the students. So that relationship they would like to see expanded to the areas that they live off campus.”

One of the students at the front of this initiative is Undergraduate Student Government President Nick Messenger.

Messenger said in order to make campus a safer place, there needs to be more of a proactive approach to policing the off-campus neighborhood.

“Your ability to be proactive depends on your ability to actually have authority in that area,” Messenger said. “Right now, the line is High Street. One side is OSU PD, the other side is Columbus PD, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a proactive perspective of the university, that (University Police) can’t go in and have any kind of real authority.”

While Messenger said both the university and the City of Columbus want to get a jurisdiction deal done, one party and one contract could be holding up negotiations to update the 20-year-old contract.

“The unique situation we’re in is the city is renegotiating their contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union. This concept of a mutual aid agreement and expansion would have to be included in these contract negotiations,” Messenger said.

Messenger said under the current contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union for both Columbus Police officers and University Police officers, Columbus Police officers can earn overtime for responding to situations in the university area. He said hold-ups in negotiations to expand the agreement could be related to the contract.

“From what I’ve gathered, the FOP police officers seem to be more intent on protecting their overtime hours and ability to respond to the crime in the University District than they do about giving OSU PD the ability to cooperate with them and stop crime from happening in the University District,” Messenger said.

Multiple phone calls and emails to the Fraternal Order of Police, dating back to April 4, have gone unanswered.

“It seems that FOP is trying to maintain the status quo of being responsive and reactive,” Messenger said. “If this is where we are, where we would prefer a student get mugged to protect our overtime hours rather than being proactive … That is unacceptable to me.”

President E. Gordon Gee said OSU, and the City of Columbus are working through union issues to get the agreement done.

“I think that we needed to work (contractual issues) through with the (Fraternal Order of Police),” Gee said. “Our own police are also members of the Fraternal Order of Police, so it seems like we don’t even have an inter-union squabble on this kind of issue.”

In addition, the Fraternal Order of Police has a contract that does not allow the Columbus Division of Police to contract out jurisdiction to other police departments, including University Police.

Interpretations of that clause could also prevent an updated mutual aid agreement.

Denton said there would be many advantages to updating the agreement, but his officers would primarily focus on university property.

“Primarily, we want our officers to patrol campus and university property first and foremost. Which means residence halls, academic areas, our facilities, the medical center,” Denton said. “All of those are where our officers should be deployed first and foremost.”

Moore said that any agreement would need to meet several requirements, focused on the safety of everyone involved.

“What I want to see is that we continue working cooperatively together, and whatever the outcome is, is in the best interest of the students, the university, the City of Columbus and our officers,” Moore said.

Gee said he is committed to updating the mutual aid agreement, and that this is not an issue of “if” it gets done, it’s “when.”

“Our own police, the Ohio State University Police are fully committed to doing this,” Gee said. “I think it will happen in very short order.”

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