UCPD: Clarify zero-tolerance
Since Washington University students returned from spring break, controversy surrounding the University City Police Department’s invocation of a zero-tolerance policy has taken center stage. The 50 students who spoke out against the policy at last Monday’s city council meeting spurred much-needed dialogue regarding a policy about which many students continue to ask questions. However, the Washington University community was left largely without answers.
All Washington University students learned of this policy in an email from Dean of Students Justin Carroll. Carroll described the policy as follows: “University City Police have indicated that they are stepping up enforcement efforts and what may have been tolerated in the past, could now result in a citation or arrest. They have adopted a zero tolerance of behavior that disturbs residents. There are significant implications should you receive a citation from University City. In addition to large fines, you may have a police record.”
Two months and countless arrests later, Carroll’s vague articulation of this policy is all that we know. It is clear that fuses are dwindling on both sides of the issue, and we doubt that a solution will be met without a clarification of what exactly this policy puts at stake.
Dean Carroll tells us that students may be arrested, and we’re left wondering whether the policy specifies arrests as a paradigmatic punishment or as a last resort for those who do not cooperate with the police. Moreover, at Monday’s meeting, students relayed specific—and potentially extreme—anecdotes of what appears to some to be UCPD’s specific targeting of Washington University students. The community has been left to wonder whether this zero-tolerance policy is specifically aimed at students, or whether these accounts of concentrated profiling are outlying incidents.
And Student Life has met similar dead ends as our reporters attempted to glean the contents of the policy. Washington University officials would not answer questions about the policy, and they directed all inquiries to the University City officials—who also would not return calls. Online, there is nothing listed or written about what, exactly, the zero-tolerance policy entails. When Student Life finally got into contact with a University City official, he refused to give his name but said that the University City Police Department would not arrest students for a noise violation unless they were being uncooperative.
Members of the administration should not pretend to be silent stakeholders in this policy when they have been a main vehicle of its communication. In a previous article in Friday’s issue of Student Life, some serious claims were brought against UCPD by the students we spoke with. These claims left us wanting to know why students who are allegedly cooperating with police officers are being taken to jail instead of recieving standard citations.
This newspaper wants to continue to cover University City’s policy fairly. Our efforts to present a balanced view, however, will be increasingly stymied by a lack of information and transparency on the part of the University City Police Department and other University City officials. We feel that it is unreasonable to expect students to behave under the guidelines of a policy whose definition has not been fully communicated, and it is unfair to expect students to deal with the repercussions of this policy—which include bail, lawyer fees and expensive fines—without knowing the restrictions it specifies for their behavior.
And until we are able to read the policy itself, or to hear a story from the University City police, it seems to us that students’ rights are being trampled upon. Stripping what we know to its most rudimentary elements, we have heard accounts of officers going into the living rooms of students without proper warrants and accounts of officers telling students that they are specifically targeting Wash. U. students. We have more faith in our police system than to think that officers would arbitrarily act this way. We feel that these behaviors are unacceptable in any police service department, and while we have been unable to entirely confirm these student accounts, UCPD has left us unable to deny them.