Under the new management of Chief Michael Thompson, the ASU Police Department has seen many recent changes including the creation of two new roles within the force for Special Victims detectives.
Sgt. James Short, overseer of the Special Victims Unit, wrote in an email that detectives assigned to the Special Victims Unit will investigate cases involving physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and crimes against children.
ASU defines sexual violence under the ABOR Student Code of Conduct as sexual misconduct, which includes any kind of non-consensual sexual contact attempted or executed without consent or under circumstances in which consent cannot be given, such as when one is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, disabled or a minor.
Sexual misconduct also includes sexual harassment, which is constituted by sexual behavior that creates an environment of intimidation, hostility or offense.
Short said the detectives will be working closely with other agencies such as the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the ASU Office of Equity and Inclusion, the ASU Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Family Advocacy Center Services and the university’s Title IX Coordinator.
Short said Special Victims detectives will investigate all cases in their jurisdiction, which includes the four ASU campuses, regardless of whether students are involved.
Crimes involving sexual and domestic abuse are of an inherently sensitive nature. While ASU seeks to educate its students about these crimes and encourages all victims to report acts of sexual violence, that is not always what happens, Short said.
“It is the responsibility of anyone having knowledge of sexual misconduct to report the information, but ultimately it is the victim’s choice to pursue one or more of these reporting options,” he said. “It is...the victim’s choice as to how the case will be conducted. If the victim chooses not to take police action, the university has other resources...who can assist in an administrative investigation based on the circumstances and the victim’s discretion.”
Short said ASUPD will also direct victims to support services and on-campus clubs if they wish to utilize them, and a complete list of support services and education programs are available online.
Director of ASU Wellness Karen Moses wrote in an email, “The increase in awareness seems to have had a positive impact, as the percentage of female students who reported having experienced attempted and/or completed sexual assault decreased from 4.7 percent to 3.1 percent from 2014 to 2015.”
Moses said she is hopeful that a specialized unit for Special Victims will encourage more victims to report crimes.
Although sexual assault cases are frequent on college campuses, spokesperson Nicole Franks wrote in an email that there has been a general decrease in sexual assault cases across ASU campuses and that crime statistics can be located in the Annual Clery Report.
Statistics aside, Franks said “focusing two of our detectives on these types of crimes is an effective use of personnel and expertise.”
Adding the Special Victims Unit was just one of the many changes that have happened at ASUPD.
Since Chief Michael Thompson took over, ASUPD has hired more personnel, including two new officers this summer and 15 in the past year. The department began training the force in diversity and cultural awareness, as well as implemented the LiveSafe app.
Franks said the app and its various features have proven successful so far, although there are only 3,336 LifeSafe users, with 1,091 using the SafeWalk feature and 10 using the SafeRide feature, which was launched on July 11 to allow students to request Safety Escort services.
There was also a LiveSafe scavenger hunt from August 11 to August 23 designed to raise awareness for the app.
“We are always looking for smarter policing approaches,” Franks said.
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Correction: Due to an editing error, a photo caption did not match the photo accompanying this story. It has been updated.