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U. of C. Police Ready to Open Books on Stops, Searches With Online Posts

By Sam Cholke | April 13, 2015 6:21pm
 The University of Chicago Police Department will start releasing records on every stop officers make.
The University of Chicago Police Department will start releasing records on every stop officers make.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago Police Department announced Monday it would release vast amounts of data about whom its officers are stopping and why.

Marlon Lynch, chief of the private police force, said the department starting in June will voluntarily list online every instance where a university officer stops an individual on the street or during a traffic stop and the reason for the stop.

“This is the result of listening to our neighbors, students and politicians about what they would like to see,” Lynch said. “This is our effort to say we are willing to discuss the issues with you.”

The university police force has faced criticism in recent years for a lack of transparency about the actions of its 100 officers and neighbors have accused the force of disproportionately targeting young black men for stops.

Journalists, lawyers and advocacy groups that have pressured the university to bring in more public oversight roundly cheered the move.

“It addresses everything I heard community members asking for,” said journalist Jamie Kalven, who writes about police officers’ abuse of power and helped moderate community forums on the university police. “It’s really a major improvement.”

Kalven said he discussed the policy change with Lynch and Derek Douglas, the vice president for civic engagement at the university, before Monday’s announcement and said he felt it signaled a legitimate effort by university police to improve its relationship with the communities it patrols.

University police patrol an area from 37th to 64th streets and Lake Shore Drive to Cottage Grove Avenue, excluding Jackson Park.

The department will also make available upon request arrest reports for off-campus arrests, previously only available through a Freedom of Information Act request through the Chicago Police Department.

Craig Futterman, a law school professor at the university who works on police abuse cases and has served on a committee overseeing complaints against university officers, also praised the move, saying in many cases it went above what state law requires of city police.

“The university affirmatively posting this information about every stop, every search and not waiting for a FOIA request is significant,” Futterman said.

He said he would still like to see the names of officers accused of misconduct made public, which is now required of the Chicago Police Department after a lawsuit by Futterman.

There is a bill progressing in the Illinois statehouse introduced by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) that would put university police under the control of FOIA law and require the same level of transparency as city police.

“Today’s changes, while substantial, fall short of making the UCPD an adequately transparent police force,” the Coalition for Equitable Policing, a community group that has pressured the university for more openness, said in a statement. “Without a legal mandate, data release remains at the sole discretion of the university.”

Lynch said the university has not taken a position on the proposed legislation.

Those included on briefings before Monday’s announcement said the changes were in the works at the university before the legislation was introduced.

Lynch said there are more changes coming at the department and he is pushing for better community engagement.

“What this definitely shows is we are listing and we want to work with our communities,” Lynch said.

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