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Race, Religion & Social Justice

Audit finds University of Utah policing issues during McCluskey murder haven’t been fixed

The University of Utah sign in front a tree-filled quad.
Brian Albers / KUER
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The University of Utah has not fixed crime reporting issues that were revealed after the 2018 murder of student Lauren McCluskey, according to a state legislative audit released Wednesday.

The University’s housing department was found to be not reporting some campus safety issues to the school’s police department in a timely manner, negatively impacting public safety.

“One of the cases we highlight in the report is an aggravated assault,” said Jake Dinsdale with the Legislative Auditor General’s office. “Obviously any time between the report and when police are able to get involved and do threat assessments and work with the victims and the alleged perpetrators — you want that time to be as brief as possible. In fact, UofU policy says that should be done immediately.”

The audit also criticized the University for having too many reporting options: at least 14. It recommends that they direct people to make complaints directly to campus police.

“While the University of Utah continues to invest in safety enhancements and innovations, this analysis is a timely reminder of how important it is to regularly review and improve our safety operations on campus,” said the University’s Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires.

Some of those improvements include the creation of Squire’s position and the designation of a police liaison within the housing department.

UnsafeU, a student group working to make the campus safer, said in a statement the audit should have gone further.

“Given the severity of this report, we are disappointed to see weak recommendations about a path forward to hold [Utah System of Higher Education] institutions, and particularly the U, accountable for their legal requirements under both the Clery Act and state law,” the organization said. “We need to continue to reimagine response and reporting systems as well as reduce our reliance on policing as a whole.”

Higher education institutions are required under the federal Clery Act to publicly report crimes that occur on or near campus. Auditors found data errors in that reporting for most colleges and universities across the state, which can range from a number being entered incorrectly to a failure to report a crime. The audit found 141 data entry errors across all schools.

Violations of the Clery Act can lead to fines from the federal Department of Education. Dinsdale said universities have been working to improve public safety notifications.

Spencer Jenkins with the Utah System of Higher Education said fixing the data issues is their top priority.

“It's a matter of not for lack of effort, but standardizing and coordinating more at the system level,” he said, “so for the state, there's a more clear picture into the data.”

Jenkins also said they want to use that data to gauge how effective their changes are.

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