To the Editor:
In the past several months, much has been said regarding the policing of the community by the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). Passions are inflamed both pro and con regarding their policing powers and how they are used. The reasons on both sides are understandable.
There is a reasonable argument as to why the University of Chicago’s (U. of C.) police force should have the policing powers they now possess. Universities like the U. of C. bring large populations from different places into one concentrated area. In a small- to modest-sized city, campus safety issues could tax or overwhelm the police forces of a locale. Colleges and universities have to deal with student-on-student crime. Thefts, assaults and rapes occur on campus, as they do outside of a campus’ boundaries. There are also the very unfortunate incidents of mass shootings and killings of students by students, and threats of terrorism directed towards, or emanating from within, the university populace. Any university or college would be crippled in dealing with these issues without a police department with full authority to deal with crime.
However, aggressive traffic enforcement, alleged “stop-and-cuff” incidents involving young, Black, non-student males and other community policing efforts which have no clear connection to protecting a university’s populace and property are not among those compelling reasons mentioned above. In these cases, policing policy appears to be purely driven by reputation and economic interests, using the definition of “the public way” in a broad manner to achieve those objectives. The U. of C.’s location on the South Side of Chicago brings with it all of the negative attention of crime which is reported worldwide via the press. As the University of Chicago grapples with current and potential students and faculty wanting to know why should they come to an alleged war zone, it has to be able to convincingly address those concerns. As it is currently written, the Illinois Private College Campus Police Act provides many of the tools to adequately respond.
The U. of C. is not alone in this situation. The Illinois Institute of Technology, also a world-class institution in its own right, shares similar concerns. DePaul, another world-class institution, also has these concerns. Their ability to grow depends on being able to expand their academic and economic interests, and they may be compelled to police these new areas of interest, as the statue provides, for the “interests of the college or university.”
Given that, I’d like to present this scenario: With a new stadium being built for DePaul on 22nd Street (Cermak), the tearing down of CHA housing south of IIT, the current policing boundaries of the U. of C. and the possibility of the Obama Presidential Library being located in Washington Park, there is a potential for much of the South Side — from Cermak to the north, 67th Street to the south, the Dan Ryan to the west and the lakefront to the east — to be largely patrolled by private police forces. For those that think it’s a stretch, it’s already true between 37th and 64th streets, from Cottage Grove Avenue to the lake. All it would take are some more university-sponsored charter schools and economic development, and the area could become a virtual privatized police state. I am not suggesting this will happen, but while laws such as the Illinois Private College Campus Police Act are on the books, there is nothing to prevent it from happening. One thing we know for sure — development and expansion by all three of these private universities will continue and will penetrate substantially into their surrounding communities.
For some that think that being policed by UCPD is a good thing, given any myriad of reasons, such as the alleged lack of protection by the Chicago Police Department, please remember that these private forces have the authority to protect you, but not the obligation. There is nothing in either their charters, or the state statue, that compels them to become involved in a criminal matter on your behalf.
Consequently, reining in their power is not a matter of being soft on crime, it is being hard on rights, and as a citizen, you have the right to be protected by those whom you have elected.
This is the critical difference. This is the case against a private police force, one from any private college or university, possessing policing powers over its surrounding communities.