Chief Noel March, director of public safety at the University of Maine, is one of 30 law enforcement executives from across the country chosen to participate at the National Law Enforcement Leadership Institute on Violence Against Women in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
March left Saturday to attend the four-day conference starting Sunday. The conference is hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and funded by a grant set up by the Office of Violence Against Women under the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to a recent UMaine press release, the conference aims to “explore innovative approaches for investigating crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.” Participants will be involved in comparing policies on responding to violence against women and prevention education.
March had to apply for participation in the conference six months ago then wait to be accepted.
“This will represent an outstanding opportunity to participate in discussions and learn about the current thinking on issues that are of concern all over the U.S.,” March said in a press release. “I expect to return better able to help people in our community educate themselves about the law and resources that are available to them.”
The conference coincides with October’s Domestic Violence Awareness and Crime Prevention month.
“In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I encourage all Americans to speak out on behalf of domestic violence victims everywhere,” said Diane Stuart, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, on the organization’s Web site. “It is through open and honest dialogue that victims will feel compelled to come forward and ask for the assistance they need to live independent and violence-free lives.”
With upwards of 30 homicides per year, Maine is the third safest state with respect to violence, according to March. However, half of the homicides in Maine involve domestic violence in some way, and domestic violence prevention is looked upon as homicide prevention.
Every one of the 130 law enforcement agencies in Maine has a mandatory policy against domestic violence in place and training on responding to domestic violence, and UMaine is no exception. Domestic violence incidents require mandatory arrests whether or not the violence occurred in front of an officer or if the alleged victim does not want to press charges. Domestic violence can be as minor as a slap, grab or a shove or as serious as to require hospitalization. It is one of the few areas where discretion is taken out of the officers’ hands.
To date, public safety has had nine incoming reports of a domestic violence cases within the last 30 months on the UMaine campus. That number does not include incoming reports of noise, assault or suspicious activity complaints that might have ended up domestic violence cases.
“We have one of the safest state universities in America, but we don’t live in a bubble,” said March.
Currently, there are 20 police officers, 11,400 students, 2,000 to 3,000 full- and part-time staff and faculty, and numerous guests and visitors. On any given day, there can be as many as 20,000 people on campus at one time, according to March.
“We have all the ingredients of a miniature city, and all the problems that come with that city as well. There are cases of drunk driving, burglary and theft, kiddy porn, suicide attempts and identity theft in addition to domestic violence,” said March. “I don’t want to sugar coat that we have issues, but I want to emphasize that everything I just mentioned are in the minority of the UMaine landscape. Yes, they exist, but they are not overwhelming.”
Public safety is currently working closely with groups across campus such as the Safe Campus Project to promote working together as a community to prevent crime. The Safe Campus Project started in 2001 and is also partly funded by grants provided by the Office of Violence Against Women under the U.S. Department of Justice. The Project is set up to provide support by offering resources and referrals on interpersonal violence. Interpersonal violence deals with areas of sexual violence, dating violence and stalking, according to its Web site and coordinator of the Safe Campus Project, Carey Nason.
“It’s so easy sometimes to let our guard down because UMaine overall is a safe place,” said Nason. “We just need to be aware of ourselves and aware of others, and when and if we notice something that is going on that is not OK, we should speak up and offer support as part of the nature of UMaine.”
“I look at the University of Maine, and I have a high appreciation for the safety and civility of this place, and it’s not only because of the police force,” said March. “It is the collective efforts of the community of students, faculty and staff that actually look out for one another and share a common concern for the well-being of our campus. I feel very strongly about these things.”
March is considered a subject matter expert on community safety and has often been called upon to speak on the subject all across the world as well as to practice it here at UMaine. In May 2006, March will be one of six presenters from North America to speak at the European Conference on Campus Security in St. Petersburg, Russia about university policing.
March has lived in Maine for 22 years, and this Jan. 4 will celebrate his fourth year as chief of public safety at UMaine.
Thirty-five-year veteran, Charles P. Chandler, deputy chief and associate director for public safety, will be in charge of public safety while March is in Wyoming. March plans to return this the following weekend after taking a few extra vacation days with his wife to enjoy the sights in Wyoming.