On Wednesday evening, Marlon Lynch, chief of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) gave a remarkably candid explanation of University police policies and addressed allegations of racial profiling at a Leadership Conversation attended by more than 100 people. While Lynch emphasized that his department does not engage in racial profiling, repeated questioning of this assertion at the meeting reflects a notable distrust of the UCPD. Lynch must seize the significant student and community interest in the UCPD as an impetus for holding regular public meetings with police leadership and beat officers to bridge the gap between the community and the police.
Regular community meetings will provide a forum for residents to raise concerns related to racial profiling by a method other than signing a sworn affidavit and filing an official complaint with the UCPD. Among written testimonials handed out at the meeting by the Coalition for Equitable Policing were the experiences of a neighborhood high school student who feels unwelcome studying on the quads and a University student who feels that he will be stopped by the UCPD in Hyde Park unless he is wearing UChicago clothing. These residents should not have to file a formal complaint to have their concerns addressed. Instead, they should have a forum to bring these concerns directly to Lynch and regular UCPD beat officers. These meetings would allow the UCPD to address concerns immediately and to provide an equally valuable opportunity for the UCPD to explain recent suspicious activity and stops.
Having UCPD beat officers regularly attend meetings will also help community members and officers alike recognize each other by face. Even though the UCPD is omnipresent in Hyde Park, students and residents might only interact with its officers during a traffic stop or frisk that they feel is unjust. Having residents and officers know each other will not only make everyone feel safer, but can over time allow the UCPD and residents of its patrol area to develop a mutual sense of trust and investment in community safety.
During the talk, Lynch rebutted calls for the UCPD to be more transparent by pointing out that the department is no more opaque than other private police forces. This attitude fails to recognize that the UCPD is part of a university that prides itself on challenging the status quo. The more information constituents have about UCPD operations, the better they know how to interact with police appropriately in emergency or potentially dangerous situations. At the end of yesterday’s meeting, Lynch himself said that he wanted the dialogue about the UCPD to continue. By holding regular community meetings, the UCPD could be not only more transparent, but also take a unique and improved approach to private law enforcement.
Lynch, who said that he became a police officer in part to stop the kind of racial profiling that he encountered as a young man in Chicago, has an obligation to see that his unequivocal opposition to racial profiling translates down to each individual beat officer. Lynch and the UCPD have been successful in making Hyde Park one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago, but as long as any person in Hyde Park feels that she cannot walk down the street without being stopped unjustly, the department has more work to do.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.