Uncommon Interview: Fountain Walker, new UCPD Chief of Police

“What I want to see is partnership where we are focusing on an opportunity and working with the student body and faculty and staff to make it happen.”

By Olivia Rosenzweig

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On August 17, Fountain L. Walker was named the new University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) Chief of Police, taking over after the resignation of Marlon Lynch. The Maroon sat down to talk with Walker about his history with the UCPD and his plans for the department going forward.

Chicago Maroon: How long have you been with the UCPD? What did you do before you came to the University of Chicago?

Fountain L. Walker: “As of August 2 this year I have been with the [UCPD] for five years. I came here as a captain to work on a community policing profile for the department and had the opportunity to work within a couple of different areas along the way. Prior to coming here, I was in North Carolina, in a small college, Davidson College, [with] 1,800 students, maybe 350 faculty and staff…I was there for seven years as their Chief of Police and I had the opportunity to work with students a lot… It was a great experience for me developmentally as well as developing community partnerships.”

CM: How is being Chief of Police at UChicago different than being Chief of Police at Davidson College?

FLK: “Student relationships are different. Where at Davidson I would be asked to be in West Side Story as Officer Krupke, here we haven’t really bridged that gap yet of conversation and communication between students…What I would like to see here, that’s a little different than I experienced at Davidson, is the opportunity to have that conversation about different things and what we can do, working together, to make some difference on and off campus.”

CM: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as Chief of Police? 

FLK: “It could be anything from managing a situation, communicating with the administration about different events that are occurring within our area or outside of it. It could be planning for special events; we have quite a few dignitaries who come to campus. It could be me presenting to the laboratory school fifth and sixth graders on community safety; I still participate with some of the direct learning. Last night I attended the vice president’s event for diversity and inclusion and talked to that group about some things we would like to do or see happen moving forward. [It could also be] talking to community groups outside the university about some of their concerns and how we would like to work together talking to aldermen about restorative justice opportunities and community education, what options do we have and when in fact is the UCPD in a situation where they need to address a certain situation, what options do we have to suggest for young people. There’s a plethora of things that come up throughout a day. I can honestly say there’s not really a plan.”

CM: Do you interact with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) at all?

FLK: “Absolutely, we co-police, meaning we are the primary responding entity within our campus area and secondary to supporting the Chicago Police Department in our extended control area, but we work with them in tandem daily.”

CM: What long-term goals are you looking to achieve in this new position?

FLK: “What I want to see is partnership where we are focusing on an opportunity and working with the student body and faculty and staff to make it happen. One of the things that I would like to see within the next two years is some joint program where the police department and students primarily are working on a program that provides some sort of diversion for the young people that we have to deal with who, unfortunately, have committed some sort of crime; what options do they have, besides the juvenile detention center, what options do they have educationally, what things can we do to bolster and strengthen them as individuals and then push them out so they can be just as successful as our students here…I want to see things where you and I could be walking down the street and you know who I am and you call me by name, it’s not this individual that’s dressed up in polyester that you look at as this intimidating individual. I want us to be truly one community, it’s not just this isolated department that’s off to the side, we are a true resource and you see us as that. So if there is an issue, if there is a concern, it doesn’t even matter if it is not something to do with law enforcement, we are still people we can approach and talk about it. I want to see that meshing of the community.”

CM: And do you feel like in the past, coming in, it wasn’t as meshed as you would like to see?

FLK: “So what I think I saw in the past was a police department that was going through a transition, because in regards to the police department and its responsibilities, we were going through a process of becoming a nationally accredited entity…So there were definitely going to have to be some things we had to address along the way, but in addressing them, we have become, I believe, very professional, very well respected, and very impactful department…Now I want us to focus on that community piece…Dealing with youth, there are so many variables involved because there are so many opportunities for officers to touch and I want those touches to have meaning, I want it to have long-lasting effect, even if it’s five minutes.”

CM: What exactly is the UCPD’s role both within the campus community and the South Side community? What are some of the challenges unique to the UCPD?

FLK: “As far as our purpose, I think it’s to be a partner. I think it’s to look again for those opportunities we have for restorative justice, for community ails…Law enforcement is pretty easy, it’s black-and-white, but the educational opportunities that we have each and every day, to me it’s enumerable…The help we need in the community in that regard is engaging with the officers…When it’s the opportunity [for a police officer] to just say “hi,” simple things like that make a huge difference.”

CM: There have been complaints against the UCPD in the past for racial profiling. How have these complaints been addressed, and how do you plan to respond to this issue going forward?

FLK: “Over time, and especially during our accreditation process, we’ve developed a training regimen that has to do with by-space policing and making sure each and every officer understands the different components of what it means to racially profile, and not to do that. And also with the police and procedures there are certain things we need to address and require of the officers to engage with an individual who can conceivably say ‘I feel as if I was racially profiled.’ There is a lot of information that we put on the web now that has to do with the number of stops that we make, how we stop people, why we stop people. The majority of the time, it is actually a situation where we receive a call. There’s very few times where an officer just initiates on their own… So really being apparent and open about what that means and also telling people that on our web page you can actually file a complaint. But, if you don’t file a complaint, we don’t know about it. So that’s something that I found over time, we’ll have folks sharing information with other people, and I don’t know if they feel like they couldn’t come to the police department or actually file the report, but by not doing it, we don’t know that something’s broken. And so once you do it, then we can actually address it. So we have the processes and we have the people in place, and we also have oversight from the independent review committee to review what we actually see as the outcome for whatever that situation is.”