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Investigation Team Makes Safety Recommendations Following University Student's Murder

Photo of panel.
Rocio Hernandez / KUER
From left, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins, John T. Nielsen, Sue Riseling and Utah public safety commissioner Jess L. Anderson.

More police officers, more trainings and better communication between the University of Utah and outside agencies are among the recommendations made by an independent review team formed in response to the October murder of Lauren McCluskey.

McCluskey, a senior student-athlete, was fatally shot on campus on Oct. 22 by Melvin Rowland whom she briefly dated until learning he was a registered sex offender. Rowland killed himself before police found him at Trinity A.M.E. Church about four hours later.

University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins discussed the report’s findings with reporters on Wednesday morning. They were joined by Jess Anderson, the Utah Department of Public Safety commissioner, who presented the findings of a similar investigation by the state.

“The report does not offer any reason to believe this tragedy could have been prevented,” Watkins said.

Former Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen led the review team, which included Keith Squires, another former commissioner, and Sue Riseling, the executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

They found that none of the university officers involved in the case attempted to check Rowland’s offender status, Nielsen said.

Rowland was using several aliases, and when his name was entered into the state’s offender tracking system, his criminal history was recorded under his state identification number, Anderson said.

But university police had searched for him using his state driver’s license number which did not match what was entered into the tracking system.

“Therefore, the officers were never alerted that he was on probation or parole,” Anderson said.

The review also found holes in the university police department’s policies and procedures and overworked and underpaid police officers.

The detective assigned to McCluskey’s case was juggling other cases including some involving crime victims taken to a university medical facility, which highlights the need for an increase in resources for the university’s police department, Riseling said.

“This is a common practice. Most universities that have these medical facilities have the same jurisdictions and the same challenges,” Riseling said.

The team also found the detective had missed key information in McCluskey’s case because she was off-duty when an important email came in. That email was not read until after the homicide had already occured, the report said.

Riseling said this is one of the reason her team recommends the university implements a new policy that will ensure that sensitive or timely information will be seen even if detectives are off-duty.

Another challenge for university police officers is that they are pulled away from their cases when they have to staff major university functions such as speakers visits and sporting events, Nielsen said. The team estimates that officers only spend 60 percent of their time on their cases.

“That’s one of the reasons that we sense the department is understaffed and under-resourced,” Nielsen said.

University Police Chief Dale Brophy has asked Watkins for five additional officers, but he told the review team that it's been challenging to recruit and retain officers. Nielsen says this is due to a salary and wage disparity.

The university says it will conduct a review of compensations of all its officers and ensure their salaries are competitive with other law enforcement agencies in Utah.

Additional recommendations for overall campus safety will be discussed in a second review next year.

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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