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ASG to pursue medical amnesty in 2013

By Amanda Hancock
On November 5, 2012

Miami University Student Body President John Stefanski and Associated Student Government (ASG) continue trying to implement an official Medical Emergency Assistance Program, a bill that ASG first introduced late last year but has since been stalled.

According to Stefanski, this sort of "Medical Amnesty" policy allows a student who is intoxicated or needs medical assistance to call the police without worrying about the consequences from the university or police.

"I definitely feel that people do not call for help because they're afraid of the ramifications," Stefanski said.

He said students opt out of calling the police because they want to avoid potentially being fined or cited and even being confronted by resident assistants.

Under the policy Stefanski has in mind, he said students would be allowed to seek help from their resident assistant (RA), Miami University Police Department (MUPD) or to call 911 and not be cited by the university.

Stefanski favors a policy that is more closely aligned with the Oxford Police Department (OPD). OPD has a written medical amnesty policy and it officially went into effect Sept. 6, 2011.

"My legislation is written, it's ready to go," he said.

But after being met with opposition from members of administration, Stefanski said he personally stalled the bill.

According to Dean of Students Susan Mosley-Howard, currently the university and the Miami University Police Department (MUPD) do not cite students if they make it to the emergency room without the notice of their RA or MUPD.

Mosley-Howard said she was unaware of ASG's efforts to pass a medical amnesty bill, but suggested it consult MUPD, legal council, and other offices if it wishes to see a harsher or firmer practice.

"ASG needs to recognize that Miami police officers are foremost officers of the state, I'm not sure how much ASG can impact them," she said.

Mosley-Howard said the MUPD and OPD forces put the safety of students first when they call seeking medical attention.

There is at least one distinction between the two police departments though. MUPD does not have a written Medical Amnesty policy and OPD does.

According to OPD's Chief of Police Bob Holzworth, officers will generally not penalize a person in need of medical help or someone who calls for help on their behalf.

MUPD Chief John McCandless said his officers treat these situations similarly. According to McCandless, however, after an incident, MUPD officers oftentimes return to the case to investigate the students, whereas Holzworth said he is not interested in doing that for a case solely involving intoxication.

"When people to drink themselves unconscious, I don't think it's unreasonable for them to be punished in some way," McCandless said, stating that students who repeatedly put themselves in an unsafe situation should not be let off the hook.

He also said a student who gets penalized might receive counseling or other long-term help, which would benefit them more than the police simply turning the other way.

Both Holzworth and McCandless said the safety of Miami students is their highest priority in these cases.

Holzworth said that when his officers respond to back up the Emergency Medical Service or render medical assistance, the officer's primary purpose is not investigating crime, and citations will generally not be issued on those types of calls.

"Even if they are drinking or underage, we're not going to penalize them for being a Good Samaritan," Holzworth said.

McCandless echoed Holzworth's statements.

"Our number one job and goal is getting that person to a hospital if they're in a medical emergency," McCandless said.

When he arrives to a scene, McCandless said the safety of the student is the primary objective even if there is underage drinking going on.

"We're not interested in carding everybody in that situation," McCandless said.

Also, according to both Holzworth and McCandless, if people around the scene disturb the officers' process or if officers learn of other illicit behavior, such as drug possession or assault, they have a legal duty to investigate and there is no amnesty given to other criminal activity found, they said.

"If there are other things going on in that situation, we're not going to ignore it," Holzworth said.

Because students don't want to be penalized, Holzworth said he is sensitive to the fact that many people are not going to call the police. But he urged students to not worry about getting in trouble.

Stefanski plans to pass the bill through ASG again; he anticipates fewer problems this time around. If the bill is passed, it will go to Student Affairs Council for a vote and then hopefully be effective at the start of the 2013-2014 school year, he said.

Until that point, sophomore Elisa Frazier agrees that students need to feel more comfortable calling the police. Frazier said she is in favor of implementing a campus wide medical amnesty policy.

"Because we're in a college town, and binge drinking is so common, you would hope they would be more focused on safety," Frazier said.

From all sides, student safety is the main goal, according to Holzworth. He said no matter how medical amnesty is practiced; it reflects an overarching message: drink responsibly.

"When a person is so intoxicated that they cannot care for themselves, it is a terrible concern," he said, adding that it can easily be prevented if they are smart about drinking.

"Alcohol is our single biggest problem on campus; it's a catalyst for so much of our crime," he said.

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