Town-Gown Agreement on Sexual Assault Cases Obtained by Planet Princeton as Part of Public Records Lawsuit

The Princeton Police Department and Princeton University entered into a little-known agreement last summer regarding the handling of sexual assault cases off campus, according to public records obtained by Planet Princeton as part of a lawsuit against the town.

According to the agreement, off-campus assaults involving members of the Princeton University community, either as victims and suspects, will be reported to the Princeton University Title IX Office via the Princeton University Department of Public Safety.

Such memorandums of understanding between local police and universities are being adopted more frequently as recommended by the federal government. The memorandums of understanding can cover many issues related to sexual assault.

The Princeton Police Department will provide “information and incident summaries regarding attempted, suspected or reported sexual misconduct, sexual discrimination and other prohibited behaviors-involving members of the University community to the Department of Public Safety” as soon as possible, according to the agreement, which is called a memorandum of understanding.

A Princeton University Department of Public Safety officer will be assigned to be the liaison between the police department and the Title IX office in such cases. When the Title IX Office and the Princeton Police Department are both conducting concurrent investigations, they will seek to coordinate efforts, according to the memorandum of understanding.

The Princeton Police Department “to the extent possible and appropriate” will permit a representative of the Title IX Office at Princeton University to observe the interviews conducted by the Princeton Police Department. If the representative is not available to observe interviews or it is deemed inappropriate, the Princeton Police Department will provide the representative with the opportunity to review videos of  interviews or statements or other information relating to such interviews, according to the memorandum of understanding.

Case reports will not be given out to the school unless the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office approves their release, or unless a court order is issued to do so.

The Princeton Police Department will assist the Title IX Office and help resolve complaints “promptly and equitably” when appropriate.

At the request of the Princeton Police Department, the Title IX Office at Princeton University may agree to delay its investigation. The Title IX Office will not delay its Title IX investigation beyond 10 days in accordance with federal Department of Education guidelines, according to the agreement.

Any investigation conducted by law enforcement agencies for purposes of determining whether a criminal law has been violated will be separate and distinct from any Title IX investigation conducted by the school.

“The Title IX office recognizes.and respects the need for law enforcement agencies to conduct the criminal investigation. To ensure that the Title IX Office is not inappropriately interfering with the criminal investigation, the Title IX Office will delay interviewing individuals in accordance with the terms,” reads the memorandum of understanding.

“In addition, when the Title IX Office does conduct interviews, it will not discourage any member of the University community from cooperating with the criminal investigation,” reads the agreement. “Likewise, the Princeton Police Department will not discourage any member from the University community from cooperating with the Title IX investigation.”

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office will become the lead law enforcement agency when crimes such as murder, kidnapping or first degree aggravated sexual assault are involved, according to the agreement.

“The parties recognize that in such instances the law enforcement investigation would normally take precedence over the Title IX investigation,” reads the agreement. “In all instances, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office protocols with respect to notification to their office, must be followed.”

If the Princeton Police Department takes the position that Princeton University’s Title IX Office should not proceed with its Title IX investigation, but the Title IX Office takes the position that it should proceed with its Title IX investigation, and the issue can’t be resolved, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office can weigh in, or the matter can be resolved in court.

The Title IX Office agreed that university community members who report that they have been assaulted will be informed of their rights to file criminal complaints. The Title IX office’s “written notification template” describes the available options for complainants, including the option to pursue a criminal complaint with a law enforcement agency, the option to pursue a Title IX complaint, or the option to pursue both.

Signed by the police chief and the school’s vice provost in the office for institutional equity and diversity, the memorandum of understanding will be reviewed annually. The document was not discussed at public meetings of the town’s governing body, unlike the first agreement on policing between the town and the school.

The memorandum of understanding was obtained as part of a lawsuit Planet Princeton filed about a month ago seeking any operating agreements and memorandums of understanding, made between the university and the town regarding policing over the last four years. Planet Princeton also received copies of three operating agreements between the Princeton University Department of Public Safety and the Princeton Police as part of the litigation. Attachments that include a map and an index that details which police department handles which areas and which crimes were not provided because Princeton University claims the information would jeopardize the safety and security of its officers.

Princeton University has become a party in the lawsuit filed by Planet Princeton, but the town and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office have dropped out of the lawsuit, saying they no longer object to releasing all the documents, including the map and index.

Please share your thoughts on this story.

  • In what possible universe could an agreement as to the conduct of criminal investigations be shielded from an open records request?

  • Why was this kept from the people. A lawsuit should never have been necessary make this information public.

  • Does this mean that if a University employee or University student are accused of a sexual assault in this town the University itself would be always entitled to the name of (and/or other details about) the victim/accuser?

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