The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 17, 2016 10:00 pm

A 'curiously timid' police records bill

The University of Notre Dame has a special kind of police department. It’s public: Its officers have all the legislature-granted powers of other police in Indiana. And it’s private: Basically, the records of its actions can be kept entirely secret.

Unlike Notre Dame’s singular inability to win a major bowl game, the bizarre status of its police department is not unique. Six other private Indiana colleges, including Taylor University, also have public/private police forces.

Notre Dame says the arrangement allows the university to protect students’ privacy, but that begs the question of why students are entitled to more privacy than the average citizen, or, for that matter, more than students at other universities. Rightly or wrongly, the police department’s special status has also fostered the suspicion that members of the aforementioned football team have gotten special breaks from campus law enforcement.

Last year, when it was denied police records related to some athletes, ESPN sued the university, a challenge Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is supporting.

Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, vowed to fix the situation. But the bill he has introduced this year, House Bill 1022, would only allow public inspection of records of arrests by private-college police – relatively rare situations.

The South Bend Tribune, which has battled the university over this issue for decades, noted last week, "The bill should be broader and require a private university’s police blotter have the same information as other police departments at public universities. That includes the specific location of any crime, names and the general description of the alleged crime."

Why is Bauer’s bill so curiously timid about "solving" the private-college-police problem? It turns out, the Tribune reported, that Bauer drafted the bill with input from the Independent Colleges of Indiana – where he is a board member.

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