April 14, 2015

UCPD to make public information on traffic stops, field stops, and arrests

In an effort to increase transparency, the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) announced that it will release daily traffic stop data, field contact data, and information on arrrest records – available by request. This information will be conveniently collected in a new website set to go live in June. the creation of a new website yesterday. 

A field contact is a report on an incident where a UCPD officer stops someone in the street. Records of these contacts will now be released daily, along with traffic stop data.  Traffic stop data will include the race, gender, location, and justification of those stopped. Currently traffic stop data is only available on a quarterly basis. In addition, arrest records will include date, time, and charges.

The website will assemble this new data as well as information on the UCPD that is already available by providing links to different sources on one web page, including a link to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s traffic stop data, a link to instructions on how to fill out an incident report with the Chicago Police Department, the Independent Review Committee’s yearly summary of complaints against UCPD officers, the daily crime and fire log, and security alerts.

“There was a positive exchange of information and that’s something that we want to continue and keep those lines of exchange open,” Marlon Lynch, chief of the UCPD, said. He added, however, that the exact mechanisms for continued community outreach and cooperation have not yet been decided on.

This development comes after a ten month process of negotiations between the UCPD and a variety of community and school groups, including the Campaign for Equitable Policing, student government, elected officials including Aldermen Leslie Hairston, Will Burns, Willie B. Cochran and Pat Dowell, Illinois state representatives Barbara Flynn Currie and Christian Mitchell, individual community members, and neighborhood organizations.

“What we did was create opportunities for them to share their concerns about what was perceived to be a lack of transparency about the UCPD [and] what their expectations were. It also gave UCPD an opportunity to share why it operates in the manner that it does and how things are implemented,” Lynch said.

Student Government president Tyler Kissinger says that this announcement is an encouraging development but notes that the UCPD can still go further in its disclosure of information. Student Government signed a petition to sponsor Bill HB3932 earlier in the year, which would amend the Private College Campus Police Act to require private universities to make their records available to the same standards of the Freedom of Information Act, the standard to which the Chicago Police Department is held.

“Putting it into law and not making it an institutional prerogative is a good thing to do,” Kissinger said.

The newly released records place the University of Chicago above its legal obligation of information to release. However, the proposed bill sponsored by Barbara Flynn Currie would raise the requirements of what private universities legally have to disclose. This would include more detailed reporting on complaints against UCPD officers and field contacts.

The statement released by the Campaign for Equitable Policing lauded the progress made by the University, but stressed the need for more disclosure on records of allegations of police conduct, what constitutes a stop, and the policy of not collecting contact cards for interactions with students.

According to the statement, “today’s changes, while substantial, fall short of making the UCPD an adequately transparent police force. Without a legal mandate, data release remains at the sole discretion of the University.”

Emma LaBounty, a member of the Campaign for Equitable Policing, referred to the announcement as a “substantial win.”

“What transparency does is that the eyes of the community are on [the UCPD] now,” LaBounty said.

According to LaBounty, the UCPD has additionally initiated changes in policing practices in preparation for the increased information disclosure. There is now a stricter policy on what justifies a traffic stop (driving that constitutes a dangerous threat to traffic as opposed to minor seatbelt violations) and stricter policy on in-person stops (a person must fit the description of a suspect the UCPD is actively pursuing or visibly engaging in criminal activity).

The University will also post a list of frequently asked questions developed through the community discussions about the UCPD on the new web page with the other information.