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University of Chicago Police Accused of Racial Profiling

By Sam Cholke | October 30, 2014 5:42am
 Black students at the University of Chicago said they have to go to extra lengths to make sure the university's police don't single them out.
Black students at the University of Chicago said they have to go to extra lengths to make sure the university's police don't single them out.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Residents of the south lakefront at a Wednesday night forum claimed the University of Chicago Police Department is racially singling out young black men to stop.

“I’ve been stopped six times since I got back from the Marines in May,” said Jamel Triggs, an instructor at Blackstone Bicycle Works, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave.

He said it was frustrating to feel racially profiled because he’s worked to build a relationship with the bike cops from the university and city that come in to to fix their bikes at the shop where he teaches Woodlawn teens to rebuild bikes.

Black students said they made extra efforts to signal to university police that they were affiliated with the university, such as dressing more formally or carrying a book bag when they didn’t need one.

Triggs and others said they felt like there was a pattern of racial profiling by university police, but were unable to verify if it was true or not because the private force is not subject to the same disclosure laws as city police.

“Transparency incentivizes good behavior,” said Jamie Kalven, the Hyde Park journalist who organized the forum.

The university’s private force is empowered with all the rights of city cops in an area between 39th and 64th streets and Cottage Grove Avenue and Lake Michigan, excluding Jackson Park. But it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Freedom of Information Act and other laws that require public bodies to release certain information upon request.

Kalven, who recently wrapped up a seven-year court battle to get complaints against the Chicago Police Department made public, has turned his attention to the police at the university ,and at the Wednesday night forum at Experimental Station he asked his neighbors how the university police are behaving on their block.

“It looks and smells like a private militia,” said Todd Schwebel, a self-avowed "rich white guy" of Hyde Park.

Schwebel said he’s felt intimidated by officers at his home less than a block from campus and is concerned that he feels like his only option is to complain to university President Robert Zimmer.

A representative for the university police was not available to comment and university representatives attending the forum declined to comment.

The 100-officer force does have a formal process to review all complaints: A dedicated officer reviews complaints against his colleagues and then makes a recommendation about disciplinary action to Marlon Lynch, head of the force. The Independent Review Committee appointed by the provost reviews those investigations quarterly to make sure they are being handled correctly.

Emma LaBounty, who the provost appointed as a student representative to the committee for 2013, said it rarely got enough information to make a complete assessment.

She said from the reports she saw, officers accused of wrongdoing were often asked leading questions by the investigator and the investigator often appeared to be trying to trip-up the accuser with questions.

LaBounty said she felt the body was ineffective because it was composed largely of people with direct ties to the university and the committee had no power to take any action beyond making recommendations to Lynch.

Rudy Nimocks, former chief of police at the university, pointed out that the force has actually shrunk in manpower and in patrol area since he took it over in 1989.

He said the force has cut 70 officers and cut out portions of Douglas that it used to cover.

Nimocks, who would often personally investigate complaints against officers, said he has not personally noticed a significant change in the force since he retired in 2009.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she will be organizing constituents to come up with specific recommendations to be made the university about changes to the police force.

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