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Judge Issues Split Decision in Princeton Police Jurisdiction Case

The town of Princeton must provide Planet Princeton with an unredacted chart that details how the Princeton Police Department and the Princeton University Public Safety Department share  policing responsibilities on school property, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled Wednesday.

The chart details which police department is the primary responder and which is the secondary responder for lock outs, missing persons cases, sexual assaults, suicides, and other incidents on properties owned by the school.

But Jacobson ruled that a color-coded map that details which police department has jurisdiction over which campus properties is not subject to disclosure because of security concerns raised by school officials.

The chart and map are part of agreements between the town and the university regarding police jurisdiction. In February, Planet Princeton filed a public records request seeking the policing agreements. The town denied the request altogether. Planet Princeton then filed a lawsuit, and the town withdrew its objections and released four agreements. Three of the agreements cover jurisdictional issues, and the fourth details how sexual assaults on campus or involving members of the school community will be handled by both departments. Princeton University objected to the release of the map and the chart of responsibilities, and became an intervenor in the case.

Paul Ominsky, the executive director of Princeton University’s Public Safety Department, stated in a certification to the court that disclosing the map would increase the risk to campus police officers because people could use the information to plan attacks against the school’s officers. The officers are unarmed except when there is an active shooter on campus or someone with a weapon on campus.

Even though the Princeton Public Safety Department’s own website says its officers are unarmed and the agreements that have already been released describe who has jurisdiction in general, school representatives claimed that the disclosure of the map would put the officers at further risk because someone plotting an attack could use the information for evil purposes.

The lawyer for the school in the case, James Lidon, also said Ominsky was unhappy that the town released the four agreements, allegedly increasing security risks. He argued that the chart detailing responsibilities should not be disclosed because it details procedures for how law enforcement is going to respond to a given incident. He said any incremental risk for law enforcement is  “too much risk.”

Jacobson reviewed the map and the chart in her chambers and then made a ruling on the case. Regarding the map, she said Ominsky’s concerns about creating greater risks for unarmed officers could be valid and noted that the map shows each building. But she said she didn’t see the same kind of risk when it comes to releasing the chart of responsibilities. “I don’t see any risk at all, frankly,” she said.

The lawyer for the university dismissed the issue of residents’ concerns about who has jurisdiction where, saying the school’s property is private property. Yet he also acknowledged that the university officers are police officers governed by state statute who report to the county prosecutor. He said any resident who has a concern about how they are treated by a Princeton University Public Safety Officer could take the issue to the prosecutor’s office.

Jacobson acknowledged that the policing issue is a matter of public interest for citizens. She said she must consider the security issue as well though.

It is unclear whether Princeton University will appeal Jacobson’s decision about the responsibilities chart. The lawyer for Planet Princeton, Walter Luers, will be entitled to legal fees from the town and the university in the case, because the lawsuit triggered the disclosure of the agreements and the chart.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • PrincetonResident

    The town and university could have simply followed the law to begin with. Why not ask the town why they didn’t follow the law? They ended up costing the taxpayers this money.

  • stop

    So no useful news, and Princeton taxpayers get to pay for the legal battle. Thanks a bunch. I hope you enjoyed your day in court and publicizing all the drama that you caused.

  • Blake Cash

    Certainly a risk for the university, which would prefer not to disclose to anyone paying tuition how lightly they take the security of students.

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