By LINDSAY WELBERS
Some University of Chicago students are petitioning the school’s police department to act more like a publicly funded force.
The Coalition for Equitable Policing marched to the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) headquarters on Friday. They delivered a petition with more than 800 signatures and the support of 10 student organizations, demanding transparency from the UCPD. They have given the UCPD until March 12 to respond.
The coalition is demanding that UCPD establish a process of releasing information that is parallel to the Freedom of Information Act, make public its current policing strategies and amend its complaint process so it is more accessible to those who have a dispute with the force.
Ava Benezra, a third year student at the college, said UCPD polices an area that covers 6.5 square miles and 65,000 people and many of those people are not affiliated with the university.
“Students in a way signed up for this and we can leave and go to a different school and teachers can quit,” Benezra said. “But to just a resident of this community, they’re subject to this private police force against which they have no avenues for addressing issues they may have — and they didn’t choose that.”
The petition comes after Benezra said the coalition had several “polite but very fruitless” meetings with the UCPD asking for changes in policy.
“They said it was not legally necessary for them to make these changes and so they were not going to,” Benezra said.
Aerik Francis became involved with the coalition after he visited campus with his parents for the first time during orientation week in spring of 2013.
His father, an African American, was denied access by UCPD to the Ratner Athletic Center, 5530 S. Ellis Ave., because he could not provide identification showing he was associated with the university.
“Talk about orientation with UCPD and what I had to look forward to,” Francis said. “I have had police cars slow down as they saw me walking and it sort of changed the way I interacted. I make sure to present myself as a student with my backpack, I usually have some kind of UChicago clothing on, I always have my student ID on me.”
Francis said he is a supporter of the UCPD and wants equitable policing for all people in the department’s jurisdiction, but he would like to see the size of the force significantly shrunk.
Benezra said she got involved with the Coalition for Equitable Policing after she was meeting some Kenwood Academy students she was volunteering with on campus. She said the students were waiting for her on the grass when UCPD told them they were not allowed to be there and the students would be arrested if they did not leave.
The UCPD is a privately funded police force that has full police powers, including the ability to write tickets and arrest people. It has 100 officers on staff and patrols from 37th Street on the north, Cottage Grove Avenue on the west, 65th Street on the south and as far east as Lake Shore Drive.
To file a formal complaint a member of the community must make an appointment to go down to the UCPD headquarters, 6054 S. Drexel Ave. The complaint must be signed in-person by the complainant and the commanding officer.
In contrast, to file a complaint with the Chicago Police Department a member of the community can make a phone call, show up in person at the Independent Police Review Authority or any district office, or submit details by mail or online.
Members of the public can join the coalition by e-mailing equitablepolicing firstname.lastname@example.org.