This Memorial Day weekend marks the 24th anniversary of the disappearance of Kristin Smart, a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who disappeared in the early morning hours of May 25, 1996 while walking to her dormitory following a party. Kristin Smart was reported missing to the Cal Poly Police Department two days later, but believing the student may have taken a trip for the holiday weekend, university police were slow to investigate. It was quickly learned that that a male student living in a Cal Poly dorm accompanied Kristin back to her dorm that night and may have been the last person to ever see her.
Despite Kristin’s disappearance under suspicious circumstances, university police retained primary responsibility over the investigation which lacked the rigor necessary for an investigation of this magnitude. Many believe this resulted in the loss of potentially critical evidence and leads even with increasing indications that Kristin may have been taken to the primary suspect’s dorm. It was not until weeks later that the investigation was handed off to County law enforcement as university police realized they were ill-equipped to handle the case of a missing student presumed to be the victim of a fatal crime. By this time university dorms were vacated and cleaned for the summer before any forensic examination of a potential crime scene.
To this day, Kristin Smart remains missing and is presumed dead while no person has been tried in her disappearance. As Kristin’s case has remained “active and ongoing” with local law enforcement, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this unsolved case was recently reignited in the media due to a true crime podcast and law enforcement activity surrounding the prime suspect.
Kristin’s parents championed the Kristin Smart Campus Safety Act that became law in 1998. The legislation, codified in California Education Code sections 67381, requires community colleges and universities to have in place written agreements with local law enforcement outlining the operational responsibility for Part 1 violent crimes occurring on each institution’s campuses. Local law enforcement agencies must enter into written agreements with campus law enforcement agencies if there are college or university campuses located in the jurisdictions of the local law enforcement agencies.
The written agreement must designate which law enforcement agency shall have operational responsibility for the investigation of each suspected Part 1 violent crime and delineate the specific geographical boundaries of each agency’s operational responsibility, including maps as necessary. Part 1 violent crimes, as defined, include willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Notwithstanding, campus law enforcement maintain primary authority for providing police or security services, including the investigation of criminal activity, to their campuses. These written agreements must be in place and available for public viewing.
While the Kristin Smart Campus Safety Act outlines the minimum requirements for written agreements between campus law enforcement and local law enforcement, these agreements can contain other agreements, including cross-training between the agencies, communication protocols and resource sharing.
The Act is one of several and often overlapping laws aimed at protecting students and addressing the obligations of colleges and universities in responding to crimes, threats and harassment.