UWSP, city unite on campus major crimes
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) and the city of Stevens Point recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to set a gold standard of cooperation when handling serious crimes on campus.
The MOU, designed to strengthen training and resource sharing between the University Police and Security Services and the Stevens Point Police Department (SPPD), was unanimously approved by the Stevens Point Police and Fire Commission Tuesday, May 2, and formally signed by UWSP’s Chief of Police Bill Rowe, Chancellor Bernie Patterson, Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza, Stevens Point Police Chief Martin Skibba and Police and Fire Commission President Gary Wescott Wednesday, May 3.
“I am very happy Chancellor Patterson responded to my call in August of 2016 when I requested the SPPD take over serious felonies on campus. This MOU accomplishes my request for the most experienced and most resourced department to handle these sensitive crimes, which is the Stevens Point Police Department,” Portage County District Attorney (DA) Louis Molepske, Jr. said. “Crime knows no boundary, and all victims of crime whether on campus or in the city should expect that the best resources are brought to bear to solve their victimization.
“I am very encouraged that this MOU’s requirement that officers be jointly trained between the city and UWSP will lead to better investigations, reduced victimization and solid convictions,” Molepske said.
Stevens Point City Attorney Andrew Logan Beveridge, who helped draft the MOU, said the memorandum sets standard operating procedures to reduce mishandling of evidence, as well as get the proper authorities in on an investigation in a timely fashion.
“It came to me via the DA’s office saying they’d like to have some written procedures in the event more serious crimes were to happen on campus to get the PD involved as early as possible in the investigation … to get us involved in a standardized way as quickly as possible so evidence is preserved to the best extend possible,” Beveridge said.
“That way, the ultimate end-product that’s delivered to the District Attorney’s office is as good as it can be, really that’s it in a nutshell,” Beveridge said. “We’ve worked together and had great cooperation over the years, but there wasn’t really a standard document saying how and when that would occur.”
Molepske said he was concerned that officers on campus were not getting the same training as SPPD officers when handling sensitive crimes like sexual assaults.
“My purpose and interest was to find a way we could bring the most resources to bear on issues and problems – and crimes, because they do occur,” said UWSP Chancellor Bernie Patterson. “Fortunately, the crimes we’re talking about, perhaps with the exception of sexual assault, are very rare. We did have one young man shot and he eventually died, but he was shot off campus … and his friends took him there (to the Berg Gym) and left him there. So, those things can happen.
“Sexual assaults are still something we struggle with as a society, I don’t think this university is any different than any other university. We are totally on board with the national effort referred to as ‘It’s On Us’ initiative out of the White House,” Patterson said. “We would expect, in those kinds of situations, when we shine a light on something the reporting rate will probably go up.
“Some of these (crimes) are not reported because the victim doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t want anybody to know about it and that’s that person’s business. But that, of course, makes it impossible for us to respond,” he said.
Patterson said he hopes the MOU will encourage more victims to come forward and report crimes, given there is a more clearly-defined procedure.
“The other incident just this last fall semester were the incidences of bias involving students of color. We saw, over the previous fall semester, a significant increase in the number of occurrences,” he said. “Two factors I think influenced that. One, there were more incidences. And secondly, I think there was also an uptick in reporting rate. We were talking about it and saying to students, ‘we can’t do anything about it if you don’t tell us about it, we will follow up on it if you do.’ And we did follow up on every one that was reported to us.”
During the last semester, campus students of color were targeted by drivers of large trucks – usually donning confederate flags – for acts of intimidation like buzzing them at close range or intentionally splashing puddles after rains, Patterson said.
“They were trying to scare them,” he said.
He said it was ultimately a student who stepped forward with photo evidence which led to the identification of one of the repeat drivers and the SPPD was very helpful in the investigation, but the increase in acts of aggression led the university to want better teamwork with authorities.
“We were working closely with the city on these, so why not have a more formalized method of how both agencies are going to respond?” Patterson said.