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September 27, 2010

Discussing the Reg arrest and the UCPD response

Following the release of the Independent Review Committee’s report on last February's arrest in the A-Level of Regenstein, the Maroon spoke with Craig Futterman, the chairman of the Independent Review Committee (IRC) and a professor in the Law School. Below, we’ve included some of the most interesting excerpts from that conversation.

If you haven’t already, you can download the IRC report here, and read the Maroon’s coverage of the report and the reaction to it here and here.

On confronting challenges to police authority

Craig Futterman: We found this to be a significant issue in this case. Everyone on the IRC understands the importance of UCPD having authority, and being perceived as legitimate.

I just had a personal example of this with my own kids when there was a gas leak in our home. As I shout, "Get out, and get out now," having their trust was important. There wasn't time to explain all that's going on. Trust in the police is critical for our safety and security.

What's ironic and paradoxical, and this case was illustrative of this point, is that reflexive assertions of authority by the police can actually do a lot to undermine their authority and legitimacy. One of the things we questioned in this case—and this was just one case, but it may raise larger issues—was that when the sergeant perceived his authority being questioned, even in mild ways, the immediate response was an assertion of authority: "Do what I say."

When an officer experiences non-compliance, that response—"Do what I say or else"—radically limits the range of the next set of the officer’s options to either the exercise of greater force, or arrest. Otherwise, the officer’s orders would lack credibility.

Think about all that followed from that assertion of authority. Not just with use of force and the arrest, but why are we having this conversation? How upset are folks on campus about what happened? How many people in the University community have since questioned the authority of the UCPD as a result? It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, which is why it's important to make visible to officers opportunities for de-escalation before the situation ever occurs.

That's something that police departments in general, as well as the UCPD, could do better. And it's my understanding that the UCPD is taking that, among other of our recommendations, quite seriously, and implementing such training.

On building trust between a community and its police force in the wake of an incident like the Regenstein arrest

CF: Even with the best police force in the nation, there will be complaints, and things will go wrong. That's the nature of policing.

So it's a matter of having a system in place ahead of time to address those situations. And one thing I hope comes out of this that can engender confidence is that folks know there is a process that provides for a real, serious, independent look at these issues, and with a public reporting component so it's not secretive.

That is an important, healthy check that I hope instills confidence in our safety and security force. It says that this is an institution that welcomes criticism and takes it seriously, and also welcomes the opportunity to learn and to do things better. That kind of response is one that I would hope and think engenders confidence.

On the possibility that the responding officer lied in his incident report, and allegations that the UCPD turned away students with complaints about the arrest and did not act on a student complaint about the investigation

CF: There are unanswered questions about whether the officer told the truth or not. That's an area in which the UCPD's investigative file itself was so deficient that it prevented the IRC from reaching a conclusion about something critically important. If there was lying, covering up, institutional covering up, that is, to many folks on the IRC, a more serious allegation than the misjudgements and mistakes and wrongful actions taken in the heat of the moment.

There was a dispute where certain members of the IRC found that, even with deficiencies in the investigative file, there was sufficient evidence to find that some lying occurred. Other members did not agree, and the primary thing that prevented any consensus from occurring was the deficiency in the evidentiary file.

But since the charges against the sergeant were sustained and meaningful discipline was imposed, it's more a matter of flagging these questions for the future.

Also, at least one student complained that on the evening of the incident numerous students attempted to lodge police misconduct complaints to the UCPD, but they were turned away. If students were indeed turned away and not allowed to make complaints, that's the kind of charge that folks should be fired over. But that question wasn't investigated by the UCPD at all.

We strongly urged the UCPD to conduct a full investigation into that charge. That can and still should be done. The IRC believes that the failure to address that charge would raise more serious concerns of institutional integrity.

On the UCPD's responsiveness to outside criticism

CF: One of the things for which I compliment the UCPD leadership, past and present, is the seriousness with which it seeks out criticism and responds to it. In many police departments around the nation, the last thing they want is to have outsiders come in and critique them and air that dirty laundry in public.

While the UCPD leadership won't always agree with the criticism, they've embraced and asked for it, because there has been an underlying commitment to doing better and being a good police and security force. So while we were highly critical of this investigation, that critique was not to say that this is a corrupt or terrible force that doesn't care about issues of accountability and integrity.

On the racial implications of the Reg arrest

CF: I've talked to white students at the University and asked, "Have you been stopped by the UCPD and asked to show ID during your time here?" Almost uniformly the answer is no.

You ask that same question to African American students, the overwhelming majority will say, "Yes, and many times." They'll have stories about it, not necessarily bad stories, but it's just a fact.

And there have been charges of racial profiling, in cases I've reviewed and in cases that preceded my tenure on the IRC. The racial implications in this case need to be addressed because they arise in a larger context in which there is a fairly widespread perception—and I think reality—that race matters to police decisions on and off campus.

That said, we found absolutely no reason, and I want to say this strongly, absolutely no reason to find any racial bias by the sergeant with respect to his conduct with the student. And we found that the sergeant did a lot of things wrong. While that's true, this incident does raise deeper questions about race in policing and the UCPD. There are things that we need to do better, training that needs to occur, practices that need to be improved.

One of things that can help is having an independent and searching review, so that when there are allegations of racial bias, we can be confident that they will be treated thoroughly and appropriately by the UCPD, and by an independent committee overseeing the UCPD.

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