R.I. bill would open records of some private college police departments

RHODE ISLAND — The Rhode Island House of Representatives hasapproved a bill requiring private universities to release more informationabout crimes handled by campus police departments that employ full-fledgedpeace officers.

The bill, HB 5215, would require qualifying private schools to release initial arrest reports,including the names of those charged, the charges brought and “all records relatingto the detection and investigation of crime,” unless “reasonable” interferencewith an investigation would result.

The bill applies toschools that employ “special police officers” which are appointed by thesuperintendent of state police.

Only one of the ninein-state private institutions — Brown University in Providence — has specialpeace officers in its ranks.

Currently, those nineinstitutions are held only to the public information release requirements ofthe Clery Act, a 1990 federal law that requires campus police to maintain acrime log that lists the nature, date, time and general location of each crime.

Daniel Egan, presidentof the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island,said the law is “unnecessary” because of the rift it creates betweenprivate institutions.

He said the new lawwould create two standards of public records law for the state’s private highereducation sector — one for those with special forces and one for those without.

“Requirements of whatyou have to report for campus police under the Clery Act now are appropriate,”Egan said.

Egan views campuspolice as educators at Rhode Island campuses, not just police officers.

“The whole process isnot about being punitive; it is about creating a learning experience when astudent does something that gets them involved with campus police,” Egan said.

Under the proposedlaw, a department could withhold information if the request would reveal theidentity of an informant, deprive a person of their right to a fair trial, bean unwarranted invasion of privacy, reveal police enforcement and prosecutorialtactics or physically endanger any individual.

Unanimously approvedby the House on May 18, the bill is sponsored by Rep. John Carnevale,D-Providence. If the Senate were to pass the bill, the state would join only ahandful of states that have widened the transparency of private campus policedepartments beyond the scope of the Clery Act.

As the bill heads tothe state Senate, it has a history to overcome. An identical bill introduced byCarnevale, passed the House last year. That bill went on to the Senate whereminor amendments were proposed and passed on the last day of the 2010 session.

Larry Berman, spokesman for House speaker Gary Fox, said time ran out, however,and the House failed to pass the amended bill.