Raising the Bar on UCPD Accountability

Recently collected data points to racial profiling and demonstrates the need for FOIA legislation.

The University, in an effort to increase accountability, began selectively releasing University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) data last spring. To test its commitment to transparency, the Chicago Reporter requested copies of its policies, procedures, and directives, but the request was denied for reasons of “best practice.” Were the UCPD subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it would have been required to release all of these documents, which are presumably innocuous.

Last February, Illinois State Representatives Barbara Currie and Christian Mitchell—whose districts both fall within UCPD jurisdiction—introduced bill HB3932, which would have amended the Private College Campus Police Act to require police departments at private universities to release the same information public law enforcement agencies are required to release under FOIA. It died in the Senate Judiciary Committee after passing unanimously in the House, and was reintroduced this fall.

The Private College Campus Police Act gives private colleges the right to have their own full-fledged police forces but does not obligate them to adhere to FOIA. This means that the UCPD, though its jurisdiction extends far beyond campus and its officers have sworn arrest authority, is not required to publicly release information such as arrest records, data on field and traffic stops, and dispatch tapes.

Last spring, in response to calls for increased transparency by the Coalition for Equitable Policing (CEP) and others, the University began releasing some of this information to the public, making UCPD more transparent than the law requires it to be. Though this release of data has been a major step forward, it has proven the need for even greater transparency. The Chicago Reporter also published numbers last month which strongly suggest that the UCPD is complicit in racial profiling. Since June, when the University first made data on field interviews available to the public, the UCPD has stopped and questioned 166 people, 155 of whom were black. Fifty-nine percent of people who live within the patrol zone of the UCPD are black, and 93 percent of the field interviewees were black.

Given the fact that only 17,000 of the roughly 65,000 people within the UCPD patrol zone are students, the UCPD performs the same functions as public law enforcement agencies and should be held to the same standards of accountability. Selective disclosure of information opens the door to corruption and deceit, which is why the government uses FOIA to mandate the release of information. It’s great that the UCPD has begun the process of releasing policies and data, but it needs a legal nudge if it’s going to be truly accountable to the entire community it serves.

United Progress, which was elected this week as next year’s Executive Slate, dedicates a part of its platform to UCPD transparency and accountability. Among its goals is working with the CEP to advocate for the passage of HB3932. As the University looks to develop land in Washington Park and a widening of the UCPD patrol zone becomes a possibility, The Maroon Editorial Board recommends that United Progress follow through on its commitment to making relations between the UCPD and the community a top priority.

The Maroon Editorial Board