Lack of Transparency Allows Campus Police to Operate Without Oversight

Christopher Hacker | The Phoenix

Reported in collaboration with Loyola’s Investigative and Public Affairs Capstone.

In April 2006, a rookie Chicago cop named Alicia Roman opened fire into the walls of her estranged husband’s home. She was fired from the force later that year, but hired as a sworn police officer by Loyola’s private police department, Campus Safety, in 2008.

The same year Roman was hired at Loyola, Campus Safety officers allegedly accused four minority students of having fake student IDs and called them “gangbangers.” During the unrest on campus that followed, many Loyola students of color said they’d had similar experiences.

Similar things were happening at the University of Chicago, where allegations of racial profiling snowballed into a student-led campaign to reform the university’s police department.

At both universities — and at the majority of colleges in the United States — campus police are sworn officers with the same powers as municipal cops. But their salaries are paid for by universities, not taxpayers, and officers are only accountable to the schools’ boards of trustees.

There are more than 400 private police officers at universities in the Chicago area. They patrol a total area of over 11 square miles, with jurisdiction over tens of thousands of people unaffiliated with the universities they live near.

Christopher Hacker |The Phoenix

And unlike municipal police departments, police at private universities aren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which requires departments to share police reports, body camera footage, internal communications and a wealth of other information that allows the public to review police actions.

“One of the paramount concerns for all Americans is the safety of themselves and their families,” Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, said. “The information a police department captures daily is a great indicator of quality of life in a community, so it’s important the police have as much transparency as possible.”

Instead, campus police departments show the public only a small window into what they do. They’re required under a federal law called the Clery Act to publish an annual report of all the crimes committed on or adjacent to their campuses. But those reports only show part of the picture.

The vast majority of crimes that occur at urban universities like Loyola, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago occur off campus. But off-campus crimes, even ones just across the street from a campus, aren’t included in those annual reports.

The Clery Act also requires campus police departments to publish a daily log of incidents that are reported to their jurisdiction. But those reports only include a fraction of crimes that occur.

An analysis of five years of crime data from both the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Loyola Campus Safety showed Loyola Campus Safety reported more than four times fewer violent crimes in their jurisdiction than CPD, despite saying CPD regularly sends them incidents close to campus.

CPD reported 55 gun crimes in the half-mile area patrolled by Campus Safety, while Campus Safety reported 18. CPD said there were 114 robberies, while Campus Safety said there were only 21. And only about 60 of the nearly 1,000 total violent crimes reported over five years were reported by both departments.

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Further compounding the problem, Loyola’s police logs were riddled with errors and inconsistencies, the Phoenix investigation showed.

Nearly half of the violent crimes Loyola said were “handled by another jurisdiction” — meaning CPD responded to the incident — weren’t in CPD’s records at all. Those incidents include sexual assaults and robberies at gunpoint in areas where thousands of students live.

If university departments were subject to the same public scrutiny as other departments, the public would be able to see crime hotspots near where they live — a critical function of those departments under federal law. Instead, students only know about the crimes university police show them.

“A student and his or her parents have every right to know just how safe a community is and how well those armed officers are doing their jobs,” Paulson said. “It’s in the public interest to understand just how professional those police officers are. And if their activities are hidden from the public, the public has no way of gauging their performance.”

That means students are often in the dark about just how dangerous their neighborhoods really are.

In September 2017, a man was shot at in his car just two blocks from Loyola’s Rogers Park campus. Loyola police officers responded to the incident. Phone records indicate they spoke with a female student who was just feet away when the shooting started, and the student said Loyola officers drove her back to the scene to speak with investigators.

But the incident didn’t appear in Loyola’s police logs for more than a month, until The Phoenix asked them why it was never reported. A Loyola police spokesperson said it was missed because of a “software update,” but never explained why that incident was omitted and why students weren’t notified.

At the time, a spokeswoman for the Clery Center, a nonprofit that provides training and resources for Clery Act compliance, said this could potentially be a violation of the law. But the Department of Education rarely investigates police log maintenance, except in severe cases such as after the Penn State scandal when football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting more than 40 children.

“All the FOIA laws that have been promulgated by government do not generally apply to private universities,” Paulson said. “It is up to state legislators to change that.”

Illinois legislators had the opportunity to change things in 2015, when a state law was introduced to make campus police subject to FOIA. But the bill died in the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee.

All 12 members of that committee either didn’t respond to requests for comment or declined to be interviewed for this story.

Just two states — Ohio and Texas — require private university police to respond to FOIA requests. But almost all states give private university officers full police powers.

Meanwhile, the problems with Loyola’s police have continued.

Officer Alicia Roman was sued in 2015 after a former Loyola employee alleged Roman used excessive force when removing her from university property during a dispute with the employee’s managers. The employee — who suffered from bipolar disorder — left Loyola’s campus and went into a nearby Argo Tea store. But the employee alleged Roman followed her into the store and dragged her out.

Roman is still employed by Loyola, where she carries a gun and patrols the university’s downtown campus.

Later that year, another Loyola employee alleged they were discriminated against because of their race and were battered by Loyola police officer Eric Salinger.

Salinger couldn’t be reached for comment.

The employee — whose name and position at Loyola were redacted from documents obtained through a FOIA request to Illinois’ Attorney General’s office — alleged Salinger repeatedly shoved and harassed them until a second Loyola officer intervened, although the exact nature of the incident wasn’t clear. The documents also included accounts from a third Loyola officer who said Salinger repeatedly threatened them with violence.

The employee also said when they tried to obtain reports about the incident, Loyola police chief Thomas Murray refused to provide them. Because Campus Safety isn’t subject to FOIA, the employee had no other way to get that information.

And in March 2018, two Loyola students sued the university after they were detained in an incident captured on video. The students allege they were peacefully protesting the way police were searching two black men caught scalping tickets on Loyola property when officers aggressively detained them — the video shows one student being grabbed by her shirt and shoved into a wall.

And nationwide campus police have been involved in a number of high-profile incidents.

In a now-infamous 2011 incident, an officer employed by the University of California, Davis dressed in riot gear pepper sprayed a crowd of peaceful protesters, holding a can of mace just inches from their faces. The officer was later fired.

In 2015, a black Yale student was held at gunpoint by a university police officer who insisted the student wasn’t really a student. That officer never faced consequences for the incident.

Also in 2015, an officer employed by the University of Cincinnati was indicted on murder charges after he shot and killed an unarmed black man. Charges against the officer were dropped, and he later won a $250,000 settlement from the university.

And earlier this year, a University of Chicago student was shot by a campus police officer. The student was reportedly undergoing a mental health crisis and was swinging a metal pipe and threatening the officer.

University of Chicago students are now calling for greater transparency by the university’s police force, according to Wendy Lee, an organizer with UChicago United, an organization of multicultural students at the university.

“This kind of extreme violence has happened to members of [the University of Chicago and its surrounding areas] for years,” Lee said. “I think by making these actions more visible to the public people will be able to realize that [University of Chicago Police] has brought on this kind of state violence to the … surrounding areas for decades.”

Spokespeople for the University of Chicago and several other Chicago-area universities didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.

When asked if the university would provide some police documents, Evangeline Politis, a Loyola spokesperson, said, “as a private university, Loyola is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.”

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