The best of Hyde Park’s impulses have been on display in recent weeks in response to allegations of harassment of young people by the University of Chicago Police Department. A community meeting was held to air grievances. A task force is in formation under the auspices of the Fifth Ward office. Hyde Parkers are being recruited to do the serious work of making the UCPD — and by extension the neighborhood — a safer place for people of all ages and ethnicities to traverse.
We applaud all of these steps and, as a list of things to do is developed, we want to make sure that, above all, we have access to information about the activities of the UCPD. As written, the enacting legislation for university police forces does not provide for reporting to the public by campus police. It seems that we are at the mercy of the university’s recognition of the benefit of providing that information.
For the good of all parties, a clear amendation to the law that authorizes these police forces is required that provides access to information — in other words, UCPD and similarly constituted and empowered campus police departments must be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The everyday activities of the UCPD must be available to the public. We must be able to monitor the progress of this body in adhering to the highest possible standard for conduct.
It is not advisable to depend upon the largesse of the U. of C. for this information. It is not only unfair to us but also to the university, which might find itself in the odd position someday of being asked to voluntarily provide information that sullies its reputation.
In the meanwhile, we should not assume that we are in an adversarial position with the university regarding changes to the UCPD. While they may be reluctant to give up power, they certainly recognize the importance of their police force being seen as a force for good.
One hundred and one years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis observed that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” We must continue to pursue this course until the university provides the information we all need to achieve the shared goal of a police force that serves everyone in our community.