UCPD Chief focuses on community, transparency

By MEREDITH OGILVIE
Staff Writer

Sunday, Sept. 18, University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) Chief Fountain Walker was the guest speaker at an event hosted by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.  During the event, Walker addressed the community about how the UCPD and Hyde Park residents can work together to create a safer more welcoming environment.

The UCPD has recently been criticized over lack of transparency for sometime now, however, the UPCD now provides access to a range of date and information on its day-to-day operations. The information they offer goes beyond what Illinois law requires of police departments at private institutions, but is provided as a way to enhance the transparency of its policing activities. This includes a UCPD daily crime and fire log that can be accessed at incidentreports.uchicago.edu and idot.illinois.gov.

Walker introduced a number of practices and initiatives to reach the community and keep them engaged through a Community Advisory Committee, which provides a way to strengthen the department’s relationship and collaborate with area residents on safety issues affecting residents of UCPD’s extended patrol area. Additionally the advisory committee helps promote UCPD’s services through increased education on police activities and programs.

In early August it was announced the UCPD would increase its number of officers on active patrol by 28 percent, according to a notice sent by university president Robert Zimmer to faculty, staff and students.

The increase was met with opposition from students and community members. At the time, The Campaign for Equitable Policing (CEP) a student organization that sometimes functions as a UCPD watchdog group released a statement citing over policing and racial profiling among the problems with the increase.

“My motivation is to change the perception law enforcement has of itself,” Walker said. “My goal is to work with the community to ensure we are not only policing affectively but appropriately and meeting your expectations. That is what is most important to me.”

Hyde Park resident George Rumsey echoed the CEP’s concerns that an increased number of officers could possibly lead racial profiling and over policing.

Walker addressed the over policing question head on by acknowledging the increase seems high but in actuality the officers, who are professionally trained and state certified, do not all work around the clock therefore Hyde Park will not look like a police state with officers on every corner.

“Here’s the thing, in the south Kenwood/Oakland area we created two new beats and to staff these beats we added more officers, equal to something like 3.2 or 3.4 people equate to that 28 percent overall increase but it doesn’t mean visibility will increase,” Walker said. “The UCPD has 12-15 officers working each day in the jurisdiction we are responsible for.”

Other changes include the implementation of community open house hours in a bid to further engage the community.

“If something happens and we don’t know about it we can’t help, but you can always come in and feel free to bring things to my attention,” Walker said.

The UCPD will now have a Community Relations Unit (CRU) to help foster and strengthen relationships between the neighborhood and the university. Hyde Park is composed of five units each with a specific representative who can be reached by email through ucpd-cru@uchicago.edu.

“I want you to see that UCPD car and know that in there is someone you can call for help, build relationships with and trust implicitly,” Walker said. “If that’s not happening then we need to have a conversation about it because that is my goal.”

For most in the audience, Walker made a very good first impression.

“He’s terrific,” said Hyde Park resident Jane Comiskey. “He gave us a lot of good information and as a community we want to be involved but we need communication.”

Hyde Park resident Barbara O’Connor said she was impressed with Walker.

“We need to get more involved and he is giving us the tools we can use,” O’Connor said.

m.ogilvie@hpherald.com