Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, March 11, 2011

U-M seeks comment on preliminary proposed changes to trespass policy

Several preliminary proposed changes in the Department of Public Safety policy on issuing trespass warnings now are being considered by the university community.

Following an initial review, Suellyn Scarnecchia, vice president and general counsel, developed a preliminary proposal to revise the policy in consultation with DPS leadership. She is in the process of explaining those proposed changes and seeking feedback from a number of groups.

"At this stage in the process, we have developed preliminary proposed changes to the trespass policy. The next step is to gather feedback from a number of groups including SACUA (Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs), the DPS Oversight Committee, the Michigan Student Assembly, the state and U-M student chapters of the ACLU, and the leadership of the Flint and Dearborn campuses," Scarnecchia says.

"The preliminary changes we are suggesting would put in writing what, in some cases, already are standard practices at DPS. We also are suggesting adding some specificity, putting a time limit on the warnings and assuring that all appeal hearings will be scheduled promptly."

President Mary Sue Coleman asked Scarnecchia to lead the review last fall after faculty representatives and the campus chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union raised questions about the broad use of the state law to ban individuals from the Ann Arbor campus.

"The Department of Public Safety is very supportive of these preliminary proposals," says Joe Piersante, interim DPS executive director. "Incorporating into the written policy what already is our normal procedure and adding more specific timelines will make the policy clearer to everyone."

In 2010 DPS issued 295 trespass warnings. A small number of those (21) were issued to individuals affiliated with the university. Overall, about 1,800 individuals have been issued trespass warnings since 2001.

A trespass warning may be issued by a DPS officer to an individual who engages in criminal behavior, refuses to comply with university rules, disrupts the lawful functions of the university, or demonstrates a risk of physical harm or injury to persons or property. Once issued, the warning puts the individual on notice that returning to campus could lead to arrest.

Trespass warnings are authorized under state law to allow property owners to refuse access to the property. On the U-M campus, DPS officers are authorized to issue the warnings.

Among the preliminary proposals Scarnecchia is seeking feedback on are these:

• A carefully balanced approach: To clarify that the university balances the need for trespass warnings with other guidelines, Scarnecchia says the proposed policy would specifically mention that the trespass warning is to be issued only after balancing the policy governing freedom of expression (spg.umich.edu/pdf/601.01.pdf) and the policy that assures a safe environment for the university community (spg.umich.edu/pdf/601.18.pdf).

"It's our intent to call attention to these policies so everyone understands that the approach we use is to balance these important university community values."

• Policy applies to all property: The preliminary proposal would clarify that a warning issued on the Ann Arbor campus would apply to all university property, including the Flint and Dearborn campuses. The current policy is not clear that a trespass warning given at one location applies to all campuses unless specifically noted when issued.

• Making the policy clear: Scarnecchia says the proposed changes to the policy would be very clear that trespass warnings may be issued when individuals refuse or fail to comply with "university rules that protect the health, safety and welfare of the university community members and property." While this is not a change from the current DPS practice, the policy was not specific about the type of rule violation that could lead to a trespass warning.

• Review by supervisor: The proposal suggests that officers must submit each trespass warning to their shift supervisor, who will review it, and may recommend to the DPS executive director modification or rescission of the warning. Scarnecchia says this is consistent with current practice at DPS, but this requirement was not in the written department policy.

• Trespass expiration: Once a trespass warning is approved, the proposed language would have it be limited to a certain time period, although there are some exceptions for pending criminal cases. This would be a change from the current policy, which provides no expiration date.

"We believe that allowing the warnings to expire after a certain time period will improve clarity and still allow for the warnings to be effective," Scarnecchia says.

• Appeals: To make sure that appeals are handled in a timely fashion, the preliminary proposed language specifies that, once an appeal has been filed, a hearing be scheduled within 30 days and a decision issued within 10 days. An appeal hearing may be requested at any time.

Providing an appeal process is not required by state law, but it's always been an important process of the university's policy, Scarnecchia says. "We believe an appeal process is absolutely crucial."

Of the 295 trespass warnings issued in 2010, just 10 were appealed. All appeals resulted in some change, with seven warnings being rescinded and three being modified.

The preliminary language continues the practice of having appeals handled by the DPS executive director. While Scarnecchia acknowledges not everyone will agree, she says there are important reasons for continuing that practice, like maintaining the confidentiality of individuals involved. She also is seeking further feedback from others on the appeal process.

Scarnecchia points out that the current policy discourages use of the trespass policy for faculty, students and staff. Anyone who is not satisfied with the outcome of a trespass warning appeal is able to file a complaint with the university's DPS Oversight Committee, composed of faculty, students and staff.

She also explains that, generally, trespass warnings will not be modified or rescinded until any related criminal matter is resolved. This standard practice will be spelled out in any revised policy.

"We believe the proposed language for the policy more clearly addresses some of the questions that have been raised regarding trespass. We are looking forward to community feedback and discussions. We are confident we will have a stronger, more universally understood policy at the end of this process."

Members of the university community are invited to send comments on the preliminary proposed trespass policy changes to trespasscomment@umich.edu.

Scarnecchia says she hopes to have a revised policy in place by May.