Tuesday night’s shooting of a student by a University of Chicago Police Department officer was unacceptable and preventable. Given the released footage, the facts are clear: the student was in a severe mental health crisis. Creating situations where deadly force may be used should be a last resort, not the University’s first response.
The incident raises concerns about UCPD’s jurisdiction and accountability. UCPD jurisdiction stretches well beyond campus, spanning Cottage Grove to Lakeshore Drive east to west and 37th to 64th north to south. Students and community members have long raised questions about over-policing of South Side residents by UCPD, and it is time for their voices to be heard. As a private police force (one of the largest in America), UCPD is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and is not required to release information like arrest records, dispatch tapes, and body cam footage; the imperative to protect the University from liability disincentivizes the department from doing so.
The University of Chicago Democrats call for increased accountability in this area, echoing the demands of their fellow students and South Side residents. Barbara Flynn Currie, the outgoing state representative for the University’s district, introduced a bill in 2015 that would have made private university police forces subject to the FOIA, but this quickly died in committee thanks to lobbyist pressure. We call on the incoming representative, Curtis Tarver II, to reintroduce this bill, and we demand that the University of Chicago respond with increased transparency and accountability around the way UCPD polices the community in order to keep students and residents as safe as possible.