To the Editor:
I read with great interest the Hyde Park Herald article on Oct 2, “Violent Crime in Hyde Park is Steady Decline.” The reporter lists several statistics gathered from the Chicago Police Department. She also noted that while the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) was granted full policing powers, statistics regarding their activity were not made available because it is a privately funded force. As many community members have witnessed, some of it firsthand, UCPD officers have indeed stopped, detained and arrested persons whose alleged offenses appeared to have had nothing to do with serving and protecting the university community, or its property.
In mid-May, I witnessed a police undercover car stop and detain a Kenwood High School student. To my amazement, it was not Chicago, but University of Chicago, police officers. Since school was letting out, this clearly had nothing to do with university concerns. I was so disturbed by this that I went directly to state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie’s (D-25) office for an explanation. UCPD claimed many times prior their powers were granted by the state, so I wanted to know just what state statute gave them that authority.
Currie’s office eventually pointed me to the Private College Campus Police Act (110 ILCS 1020), which does indeed grant the UCPD, and every other private college and university police powers:
Members of the campus police department shall have the powers of municipal peace officers and county sheriffs, including the power to make arrests under the circumstances prescribed in Section 107-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963, as amended, for violations of state statutes or municipal or county ordinances, including the ability to regulate and control traffic on the public way contiguous to the college or university property, for the protection of students, employees, visitors and their property, and the property branches, and interests of the college or university, in the county where the college or university is located.
The University of Chicago Police Department and its officers are the real deal. The statute provides an explanation for the aggressive traffic enforcement witnessed by many community members. The phrase, “and the interests of the college or university,” can explain more ominous behavior, such as stories of racial profiling of members of the community. It is merely protecting the “interests of the college or university” as the statute allows.
One area not mentioned in the statute is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As a private entity, UCPD is not subject to FOIA, so neither the Herald’s reporter, nor the non-affiliated public subject to UCPD’s jurisdictional boundaries, is ever entitled to view their policing records.
So what business does a private police force such as UCPD have with this authority? To allow any private force the ability to arrest and detain, and especially with no independent oversight, is a grave and egregious failing of this statute. No private entity should ever have the authority to function as a public police force, and then be able to claim private privilege when asked to provide records of policing activity of the public.
UCPD will claim that the community is much safer due to its efforts than without them. Really? Based on their word? As a premier academic institution, the University of Chicago prides itself on groundbreaking research and discovery. In the academic journals where those works are published, never once are the means of how those accomplishments are achieved are accepted on a “trust us” basis. The work would be deemed academic chicanery and/or fraud. Any faculty member engaging in this kind of nonsense would be quickly dismissed. “Prove it” is expected in academic circles, and should be in policing matters. “Trust us” should never be a substitute for review and oversight.
This statute needs to be changed to limit the university’s policing powers to that which is clearly university business, and subject policing incidents involving both affiliated and non-affiliated populations to a FOIA requirement. There should also be a provision for independent oversight. If UCPD is going to act in a manner of a public police force, it should be subject to all the checks and balances of a public force.
Jamie Kalven, a reporter who successfully challenged the Chicago Police Department to release the names of officers with ten or more brutality complaints, will be moderating a community forum regarding UCPD policing practices. It will be held at the Experimental Station on 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. Please attend, especially if you have had an encounter with UCPD as a community member. We must begin to record these encounters until there are changes in the law regarding policing and access to policing records by private colleges and universities. It is imperative that we take back the right to be policed by entities accountable to the communities they serve.