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Change to Georgia senate bill raises safety concerns

Senator believes changes strikes good balance

Some Georgia Tech students and residents who live near the campus are raising concerns about recent changes to legislation they fear will impede campus safety.

Senate Bill 348 initially allowed campus police to go up to 500 yards off campus to make arrests. Senate lawmakers, though, changed the distance campus police can venture off campus to make an arrest to 500 feet.

Some Tech students and residents in the nearby Home Park  community have complained about the changes on social media. Atlanta police have stepped up patrols in the area after a spate of student robberies near the campus since early January.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who met Thursday with officials from several public colleges, defended the change. Before Thursday’s meeting, University System of Georgia officials issued a statement that said they wanted to discuss their concerns about the bill’s unintended consequences.

The longer distance campus police have to patrol, the greater responsibility they have, the senator said in an interview after the meeting. Cowsert believes the bill’s current language strikes the proper balance for campus police and local law enforcement to provide public safety.

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Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“We think it’s a good blend and we hope that we’re doing everything we can to protect those students,” Cowsert said Thursday. “This bill is not in any way to lower or limit the protection of students. It’s just defining where is (campus police) responsible for students verses law enforcement.”

Cowsert said he’s open to changing the legislation, which is currently under review by the state’s House of Representatives.

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