PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday April 24th, 2015, 5:16pm

Chicago Activists, U Of C Students Rally For Campus Police Transparency Bill (VIDEO)

Leaders with the Campaign for Equitable Policing rallied Friday afternoon at the University of Chicago campus in support of state legislation that would extend provisions of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to private university police departments. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the rally in support of HB 3932, which cleared the House on Friday and now heads to the Senate. 

Chanting "Public power! Public Accountability!", leaders with the Campaign for Equitable Policing (CEP) rallied Friday afternoon at the University of Chicago campus in support of state legislation that would extend provisions of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to private university police departments.

Shortly before the afternoon rally, attended by U of C students, South Siders and others, the legislation, HB 3932, passed unanimously in the House. The chamber's Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and chief co-sponsor Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) introduced the bill, also sponsored by state Reps. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) and David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills). The measure, which now heads to the Senate, would amend the state's Private College Campus Police Act, requiring that all Illinois private university police forces comply with the state's open records law.

CEP members and others -- who have shed light on racial profiling allegations and transparency concerns surrounding the U of C Police Department (UCPD) -- called HB 3932 an extremely important piece of legislation.

"Right now, private police forces don't have to release any of their information, unless they feel like it. So when it comes to the example of the University of Chicago Police Department, which is the largest private police force in Illinois, they don't have to release any of their information," explained Sofia Butnaru with CEP.

U of C officials "recently decided, though, because they knew the bill would come up, that they were going to release some [information], but it's basically up to their discretion what they do release," Butnaru added. "And that's obviously problematic, especially with the University of Chicago Police Department, which polices 65,000 people ... (That's) a large population compared to the actual amount of people who are affiliated with the university, which is a lot smaller."

Earlier this month, U of C officials announced new steps the private institution is taking to increase transparency around UCPD police activities. For example, the university says it "will provide more specific information regarding traffic stops and field contacts, outside of the aggregate information provided by IDOT" and "provide upon request arrest record information, similar to the information provided by public law enforcement agencies," among other changes. 

Back in November, the UCPD also announced reforms to its process of reviewing complaints against officers. The UCPD brought on a "director of professional accountability" tasked with looking into officer complaints. Previously, the private force of nearly 100 officers had rank-and-file police officials investigate complaints against university cops.

As for HB 3932, the U of C had no comment on the legislation, saying in an email to Progress Illinois that the "concerns that are addressed in the new policy changes are the same concerns that influenced this bill."

"We have been in touch with Reps. Currie and Mitchell's offices, as well as other elected officials and will continue to work with them to ensure transparency on UCPD activities," said U of C spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus. "In general, we want to share public safety information while preserving protections for private information of our students and community members."

At the rally, CEP members reiterated their concerns over allegations of racial profiling by UCPD officers.

"As of now, we just have massive amounts of personal stories to suggest that, but we don't have definitive proof. That's why we really want the Freedom of Information Act," Butnaru said. "The police department basically just wants to keep the campus looking a certain way, and wants to make students feel safe, but they do that by harassing the community members, who feel totally unsafe coming anywhere near the campus. But at the end of the day, this is a campus that's in the city of Chicago, and this is a city of Chicago before it is the University of Chicago -- and there has to be an acknowledgement of that. There are serious issues with racial profiling on the University of Chicago [campus]."

Also at today's rally was Hyde Park community member Roderick Sawyer (not the alderman), who shared additional concerns about UCPD activities.

Sawyer said he's witnessed an undercover UCPD police officer stop a student at Kenwood Academy High School, which is "pretty far off of campus."

That "undercover, unmarked car had no business that far away from campus stopping with something that wasn't university related," Sawyer said. 

This type of alleged encounter, Sawyer said, is just one example why the UCPD should be required to adhere to FOIA.

 "If you're going to be police in terms of the way Chicago police (are policing), then you need all the accountability. We need all the protections as citizens to make sure that you are policing the way the Chicago police (are)," he said. "I don't necessarily like the way Chicago police (are policing in) communities, but there are levels of accountability."

For its part, U of C denied allegations that UCPD officers racially profile people in the area.

"The University of Chicago Police Department does not deploy tactics that support racial profiling," Sainvilus said. "There is a clear emphasis from leadership to provide police services to this community while maintaining human dignity and respect. The department often and openly discusses policing strategies to ensure that officers are not engaging deliberately or inadvertently in bias-based policing. Officers receive specific training to prevent bias."

"Please note," she added, "the diversity of our police department is reflective of the communities we serve. Of our 95 officers, 63 percent are black, 25 percent white and 12 percent Hispanic."

Sainvilus also pointed out that all public complaints to the university regarding the UCPD are available for viewing online.

Currie and Mitchell, U of C alumni whose legislative districts cover UCPD's jurisdiction, sent representatives from their respective offices to the rally.

In a statement read on his behalf, Mitchell said: "For me, this bill is about building trust between all of our local law enforcement agencies -- including the UCPD -- and the surrounding neighborhoods and communities that they serve.

"I'm encouraged by the momentum for this bill -- which is a testament to the hard work that groups like the Campaign for Equitable Policing and others have done in pushing the conversation around transparency and accountability between our communities and local law enforcement," he said.

Check out scenes from today's rally plus additional comments from Alex DiLalla, president of the University of Chicago Democrats and legislative director of College Democrats of Illinois:

As for CEP's next steps, members said the group will be lobbying state senators and Gov. Bruce Rauner to support the bill. CEP will also continue efforts around other policing concerns, Butnaru said.

"Transparency's important, but we still have to do a lot of other things," she noted. "The campaign is also asking for another demand from the university, which is to reform their internal review committee. That's just another level of accountability, being able to effectively review what the police do and having community input on how the police [do their job]."

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