February 4, 2013

Letter: cost of UCPD

We must evaluate necessity of campus cops.

Lost in all the commotion following the protest and arrests of January 27 has been the question of whether the University of Chicago might be well served in dissolving its private police force. To some, it may seem intuitively apparent that a large police presence contributes significantly to Hyde Park’s low crime rate, but students should not make this an unreflected assumption. Rather, it seems the UCPD provides the same deterrent to crime that a posted security guard would, and that their most visible policing occurs after Hyde Park’s most endemic crime, namely theft, has been committed: i.e., documenting occurrence of theft. I suggest we find out what, in fact, the UCPD contributes to the safety of the student body, and then evaluate whether it is worth it to maintain this institution.

For a benefit to our security that, if not marginal, is at least an unknown quantity for most of the student body, we are asked to pay a heavy price. Each year a Mauriece Dawson is placed in a chokehold on A-Level, or a girl from King Prep is bruised up at a sit-in. These incidents are only a fraction of the cost associated with having a private security force on campus. In addition, officers’ searches for perpetrators often target young black men, whether student or one of our neighbors, with no part in the incident. Michael McCown’s experience (documented in a Jan. 28 op-ed entitled “Police Blues”), in which one of his volunteers working for a program at the University left Michael’s sight for only a brief moment and was detained because he fit a “description,” is illustrative. To suggest that a racial disparity in coercive demands for identification, as well as accidental and overenthusiastic arrests, is not an inherent cost of the UCPD’s presence, but rather an incidental failure of procedure or training, seems to me willfully naïve.

This is not to say that the University does not have good reason for hiring a private police force. Rather, we, as the student body, should at least take into account all of its consequences.

—Greg Hedin, fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Germanic studies