How TUPD distinguishes law from school policy


Illustration by Andrea Nebhut, staff illustrator

Due to Trinity’s status as a private university, students are subject to a code of conduct that dictates their behavior on campus and the consequences they face for breaking this code. Through this code, TUPD’s main focus is enforcing the law, but they also collaborate with Residential Life to enact school policy.

“TUPD enforces the law, and the university staff will enforce things that are policy violations. But there is sometimes overlap. So a resident assistant stumbles upon underaged drinking, or somebody using marijuana — that could have legal consequences, but we usually handle that through the student conduct process,” said David Tuttle, dean of students. “Likewise, TUPD can come upon things that may be violations of policy that they may write up and ends up going through student conduct.”

TUPD is a fully licensed police department and holds all the powers and abilities of the San Antonio Police Department, though their jurisdiction is Trinity’s campus and the surrounding streets.

“We are a bonafide police department, it’s just we work for a small university. We have full arrest powers like any other police department in the state of Texas,” said John Santellan, lieutenant-investigator of TUPD. “We have to go through policy academy just like every other police officer in the state of Texas. Our powers are equal to any other police officer in the state of Texas.”

This means students have the same rights with TUPD as they would with any city officer. TUPD cannot search a student’s person unless arrested. This usually only occurs if an officer has reason to believe an individual is carrying a knife or firearm. TUPD also cannot search a student’s private property without a warrant.

“I place you under arrest, and I can search you. They call that search incident to arrest. Now to search your vehicle, you call that an inventory search because anything that’s left in your car that’s of value, you want to be able to place that in the property room or to give it back to the arrested individual. There are certain places that you’re not allowed to search for without a warrant. … If it happens that I’m inventorying your car and I find drugs in your vehicle then you will be booked or charged for possession,” said Alex Conejo, a retired patrol officer of SAPD.

Conviction of a misdemeanor can result in up to a year in jail time, a fine no larger than $1000 or both.

The same procedure will occur if a student is caught by TUPD with illegal substances. However, if a student is caught by Trinity administration with drugs or alcohol, then different policies apply.

TUPD cannot search a student’s living space without a warrant or consent unless they have written permission by Sheryl Tynes, associate vice president for student life, Tuttle or a designee. The permission needs to explicitly state the reasons for the search and the information being sought. TUPD will be brought to proceed with this search, but the consequences will most likely be administrative, rather than legal.

“At the point of enforcement is when we call TUPD on a drug violation because we don’t want our residential assistant staff handling drugs. But the conduct process usually goes through the Student Conduct Panel, and then a sanction that the panel may give would be parental notification, which would be executed by Residential Life,” Tuttle said.

Cases that involve minor drug offenses usually end with a fine and notification of the student’s parents. Students can do little to prevent a school sanctioned search of their room but can refuse a TUPD search if they do not have a search warrant or are not working under direction from Trinity’s administration.

While substance abuse usually has harsher consequences through legal procedures, the administration has much more power over situations dealing with sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has very vague legal terms, while sexual assault has very specific terms, which leaves TUPD unable to pursue legal consequences for less aggressive situations.

“When you go by sexual assault, sexual harassment, the school has a different definition than TUPD as a law enforcement. When we can’t prove on our part that a situation didn’t fulfill what the law requires for it to be considered sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean the school can’t take action,” Santellan said.

Student’s rights and potential consequences are usually decided by the situation and who apprehends them, but can at times be a combination of both legal and administrative regulations.