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By Jimi Jo Story
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 2, 1998

Diversion Program helps students get off the hook

University police officers in February opted to refer 16 students to the Dean of Students Diversion Program rather than cite them on criminal charges, according to a Dean of Students Office report.

University police Chief Harry Hueston II said officers often find themselves in a position to use "discretion" - a right granted to them by national and state law - on whether to cite a minor offense or give a student a second chance.

Hueston said officers decide at the scene of a crime whether to refer students to the Diversion Program based on "whether the individual is cooperating, are they telling the truth, do they have any prior contact with the justice system and do they realize they've broken the law?"

A total of 35 alleged Code of Conduct violations were referred to the University of Arizona Dean of Students Office in February. Nineteen of the violations were submitted by students, faculty and staff. More than half of the cases were for charges of minor in possession of alcohol or possession of illegal substances.

Of the cases, 22 infractions (63 percent) were committed by freshmen, and 26 (74 percent) of the offenders were male.

Two incidents of students "causing physical harm" were reported, which could refer to anything from a sexual assault to a physical fight, Assistant Dean of Students Veda Hunn said.

"At the present I cannot share anything about those cases," she said, "but I can tell you that neither one of the cases were a sexual assault."

Dean of Students officials previously have said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits them from releasing details of the incidents reported to the office.

Hunn said she also was not able to refer to police reports for the cases.

"That would be making an assumption that there was an arrest involved, and that's not necessarily the case," she said.

Other offenses included one student who was referred for "failing to comply." Hunn said that refers to a student who does not obey policies.

"This is when, in the residence hall, you're asked to quiet down and you refuse," she said.

One student was referred to the office for "harassing and discriminatory activity," which Hunn described as harassing e-mail or phone calls.

Another student was referred for possession of stolen property, while there were three instances of theft.

Hunn said it is possible for students to be in possession of stolen property without having stolen it themselves.

"Someone else may have stolen it and given it to you for safekeeping," Hunn said. "But if you know it's stolen, you've violated policy."

The Pima County Attorney's Office also works with Hunn, who oversees disciplinary action, to give students a chance to clear their record of blemishes rather than go to trial.

The Dean of Students Diversion Program gives students a chance to clear their record even if they are arrested by police. The criminal charges are dropped upon successful completion of the program.

"It (the Diversion Program) is a very educational approach to dealing with individuals who commit crimes and make a mistake," Hueston said. "It gives them a second chance."

Associate Dean of Students Alexis Hernandez said diversion is similar to "traffic school."

"The program is a combination of an educational component and community service," Hernandez said. "The idea is that you will work off the citation so you can get a clean record."

Hernandez said there is a $40 charge to enroll in the program. Students are expected to attend an educational class related to their offense and spend several hours doing community service.

The amount of time in the program varies with the crime, he said. The program's participants can choose any non-profit organization to volunteer with.

"Believe it or not, some students pick up jobs through the community service they perform," Hernandez said. "They come back in and say, 'Hey, I'm so glad I did this.'"

Hernandez said the Diversion Program is only offered to first-time violators. Students who commit assaults and felony violations are excluded. In addition, Hueston said, the crimes must have been committed on or around campus and cited by university police.

"All of us have screwed up at one time or another and we need a second chance," Hueston said.

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