Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
After months of conversations about joint jurisdiction, the Ohio State Police Department and the Columbus Division of Police have reached a new agreement.
The agreement, announced Wednesday, gives University Police authority to respond to emergency situations in the University District, a power it only had before with the permission of the Columbus Police. Under the guidelines of a previous mutual aid agreement, each force was not permitted to act independently in the other’s territory.
While University Police can respond in emergency cases, it still is not permitted to patrol off campus.
However, Taylor Stepp, Undergraduate Student Government president said if University Police sees something suspicious going on to or from university property, they can stop and investigate, which is similar to patrolling in those areas. It doesn’t have to tell the Columbus Police until after investigating.
USG has been a driving force behind a new joint jurisdiction agreement, and Stepp said securing University Police the ability to patrol off-campus wasn’t USG’s goal with the new agreement.
“We want to make sure we’re not watered down on campus or off campus, and I think if we had our cops patrolling on the off-campus east of High Street, traditional off-campus area, some of our presence on campus is going to be watered down,” Stepp said.
University Police Chief Paul Denton reiterated that the joint jurisdiction was primarily driven by students.
“This was a student-driven initiative from last fall,” Denton said after the Wednesday meeting. “Undergraduate Student Government felt it was important to enhance officer presence and responsiveness around the neighborhood and particularly crimes that happened on the borders, where sometimes there were some limits on where officers could and couldn’t go even if they witnessed a crime.”
Columbus Police Precinct 4 Commander Chris Bowling called the agreement “significant.”
“Instead of just being able to see what’s going on and then call it into us based on the crime that’s taking place out there, they’re able to take immediate action,” Bowling said.
With the agreement in place effective immediately, University Police will be able to take action in the off-campus area if it sees a violent crime or believes one might occur. Equipment, personnel and resources between the two police forces can be shared in some instances, and if requested, University Police can assist the Columbus Police in the off-campus area, an area where University Police was previously not permitted to patrol. The agreement also allows University Police to act in the off-campus area in an emergency situation, or assist the Columbus Police.
Denton said the agreement will give the university officers “greater flexibility when responding to violent offense.”
The timing of the joint jurisdiction agreement has raised some questions after recent pedestrian and bicyclist accidents in the campus area, but Stepp said the timing of the agreement had nothing to do with traffic accidents.
“I’ll be very clear, we’re not talking about traffic safety, we’re not talking about underage drinking off-campus, we’re not talking about any of that,” Stepp said. “We are talking about criminal, violent offenses.”
The “violent offenses” Stepp was most concerned about involve stabbings and gun-related incidents, but he feels the pedestrian safety is a separate yet important issue.
“Neither the Columbus team nor the university team tied these issues together at all,” Stepp said. “It just happened that way.”
Stepp said the timing between the recent pedestrian accidents and the joint jurisdiction announcement was “coincidental,” and “there was no sense of urgency because of the traffic safety issues in this agreement.”
Students, like Josh Cecil, a second-year in exploration, felt it could still cause confusion.
“That’s what everybody is worried about; the bicycle accidents and jaywalking and whether they are going to get a ticket or not,” Cecil said. “I think people will think that they are definitely related.”
Cody McCullough, a second-year in industrial and systems engineering, said students would probably assume the joint jurisdiction announcement was intended for the recent bicycle accidents. However, McCullough said he feels safer that the police departments are focusing on violent crimes.
“For the violent attacks itself, you would hope that campus police would be able to respond quickly to those because of the severity of them,” McCullough said. “But the main reason is for the violent attacks, and that makes me feel better as a student.”
The circumstances in which University Police have full authority to enforce state laws while outside the jurisdiction of OSU and within the city, according to a document distributed at the Wednesday USG meeting, include observing a crime while upon OSU property or traveling to and from OSU property, non-traffic misdemeanors of violence and/or theft and instances when an immediate danger to the public occurs at traffic offenses and traffic direction.
However, OSU police cannot initiate traffic or pedestrian stops outside of OSU property based purely on misdemeanor violations of the City or Ohio Revised Code, according to the document.