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Changes to trespass policy receive criticism from ACLU

By Kaitlin Williams, Daily Staff Reporter
Published June 3, 2011

Though representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union said recent changes to the University’s trespass policy are an improvement, they are concerned that potential abuse by Department of Public Safety officers and a lack of an independent body to oversee appeals may still impede free speech rights.

The new trespass policy, which goes into effect on July 1, will limit the duration of a ban to one year unless DPS feels an extension is warranted, expand bans to include all three University campuses and set up further review and appeals processes to the DPS Oversight Committee.

Michael Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan chapter of the ACLU, said that while the new policy remedies previous inadequacies of the former policy, the ACLU has major concerns about allowing the DPS chief of police to hear appeals about the overuse of trespass warnings by DPS officers.

“We are still concerned that there is no appeal to an independent body,” Steinberg said.

A letter written by the University’s undergraduate ACLU chapter prompted the state chapter to get involved in the trespass policy reform, he said. Before the proposed changes were introduced, Steinberg said the University had “perhaps the most egregious” trespass policy in the state.

“We applaud the University of Michigan for taking the ACLU’s constitutional concerns seriously,” Steinberg said.

Mallory Jones, a former news editor at The Michigan Daily and former chair of the University’s chapter of the ACLU, said the group became involved in changing the University’s trespass policy because of the warning issued against Andrew Shirvell — former Michigan assistant attorney general known for making claims that former Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong was trying to instill a “radical homosexual agenda.”

Jones said she believes the former policy lacked clarity, and the ACLU was concerned about the balance of power between DPS and the University community.

“Parts of (policy) were just very broad and kind of troubling in terms of free speech issues,” Jones said. “So basically, we were just worried about it and we thought that it was kind of nerve-wracking that DPS had so much power when it came to banning people from the entire campus for breaking any University rule.”

Jones said the one-year reexamination on trespass warnings is the best improvement to the policy, but she would have liked to see appeals cases handled by a third party.

“Before, if you were banned with a trespass warning it was for life, which we felt was a little extreme,” Jones said.

The University announced the changes to the trespass policy on June 1, after a months-long policy review conducted by Suellyn Scarnecchia, University vice president and general counsel and Joe Piersante, interim executive director of DPS. At a press briefing on June 1, Scarnecchia said the review began in part because of outcries from the University’s undergraduate chapter of the ACLU.

DPS is currently reviewing approximately 1,800 adult and 200 juvenile trespass warnings issued since 2001, and Piersante said at the briefing he anticipates rescinding about half of the issuances by the end of the summer.

The new policy will allow officers to limit the scope of the trespass warning to a part of one campus or apply the warning to the entirety of the three campuses. Scarnecchia said at the briefing that the policy is not perfect, but increased transparency and detail have made it more useful.