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University of Chicago Police Would Have to Open Its Books if Bill Passes

By Sam Cholke | March 9, 2015 5:24am
 University police forces would have to open up more of their records for public scrutiny if a bill in Springfield passes.
University police forces would have to open up more of their records for public scrutiny if a bill in Springfield passes.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago Police Department’s records would be opened for broader public scrutiny if a new bill proposed by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) becomes law.

Currie, who represents Hyde Park and much of the south lakefront, is proposing a change to current law that would make public complaints against officers, incident reports and all other records city police are currently required to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act.

“There’s been a concern among some in the community that we don’t have as much accountability and transparency as we do with the city police,” Currie said of the University of Chicago’s 100-officer force.

Sam Cholke discusses what's behind the proposed bill:

The change would require university police to release all documents that city police are required to hand over to the public under Illinois law, such as incident reports, complaints against officers and the contact cards written by officers when they stop someone but no arrest is made.

“It’s essentially exactly what we’ve been asking of the university for the last year,” said Emma LaBounty of the Campaign for Equitable Policing. She has served on the University of Chicago’s internal board that reviews investigations into police misconduct.

She said she felt university police should have to abide by the same level of transparency as city police if they want the same level of power.

Though the law would apply to Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, Northwestern University and other private universities that run their own police forces, Currie said the bill was prompted by concerns about the U. of C. police.

“Part of the reason there’s been so much concern in our community is because the catchment area for the University of Chicago police is quite broad,” Currie said.

The U. of C. police patrol an area between 39th and 64th streets and Cottage Grove Avenue and Lake Michigan, excluding Jackson Park, and employs detectives and officers who can go undercover and detain people, much as city police can.

The force has come under criticism in recent years after an officer was sent undercover to infiltrate a student-led protest without authorization from top brass.

At a community forum in October, black students said they felt like they were unfairly singled out for stops by university police and complained that the internal review of complaints against officers was not transparent enough to determine whether it was effective.

The university has made changes recently to its force. It has banned using undercover officers to target student protests, submitted its policies for review by an external organization and no longer allows officers to investigate complaints of misconduct against fellow officers.

The U. of C. police declined to comment on the language of the legislation, but Currie said the university has been cooperative.

“The university is committed to making information about U.C.P.D. activities available to the public, and we do so through a variety of channels,” said Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for the university. “We are continuing to evaluate these processes to ensure that the information is as accessible as possible.”

The proposed legislation is currently in the Rules Committee.

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