WU commission investigating officer’s encounter with student

University statement says officer gave student inaccurate reason for encounter; student alleges he was racially profiled

| News Manager
A Washington University police officer turns on to Forsyth Boulevard in his patrol car Sunday afternoon. Following an alleged incident of racial profiling by a Washington University police officer, a fact-finding commission has been formed to investigate the accusation. (Kivanc Dundar | Student Life)

A Washington University police officer turns on to Forsyth Boulevard in his patrol car Sunday afternoon. Following an alleged incident of racial profiling by a Washington University police officer, a fact-finding commission has been formed to investigate the accusation. (Kivanc Dundar | Student Life)

Examining racial profiling at Washington University

Washington University has formed a fact-finding commission to review the specifics of a University police encounter with a social work student who says he was racially profiled by the police, as well as the results of an internal police investigation that found that a police officer gave the student inaccurate information about why he had been stopped.

On Sept. 16, George Warren Brown School of Social Work student Kirk Grice was waiting at the Skinker MetroLink station after classes at 3 p.m. when he was approached by a plainclothes Washington University police officer. Grice said the officer asked him what his purposes on campus had been and requested that Grice present two forms of identification.

The officer told Grice that someone who had seen him leaving a building on campus had reported him as a suspicious person.

Grice, who has been a percussion accompanist for Washington University’s Performing Arts Department for 25 years, said he had difficulty believing that such a report had been issued. Grice, who is black, said he feels he was racially profiled.

“It’s impossible for me not to feel that this is a case of racial profiling,” Grice said.

(Kivanc Dundar | Student Life)

(Kivanc Dundar | Student Life)

Grice later inquired into the incident with University officials. The Washington University Police Department (WUPD) was notified the next day and conducted an internal investigation into the case.

According to a University statement, WUPD found that the plainclothes officer followed an unnamed student after observing the student carrying what appeared to be two laptop bags. The police officer had been staking out the east end of campus as part of a larger stakeout campaign that University police initiated in September in response to a rise in crime in the area, including an increase in laptop thefts. According to the University statement, WUPD found that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to make contact with the student.

WUPD also found that the police officer gave inaccurate information when he told the student that a suspicious person report had been issued. According to the statement, the police officer told the student a report had been issued in order to avoid disclosing the existence of a stakeout. University Chief of Police Don Strom said there was no reason for the police officer to do this.

“He shouldn’t have misrepresented the facts. That’s not the way we do business,” Strom said.

Strom subsequently met with Grice and apologized for the police officer giving inaccurate information. WUPD also sent a formal letter of apology to Grice.

Strom said the police department has taken disciplinary action on the officer.

Edward Macias, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, has formed a fact-finding commission to probe the incident.

The commission will investigate the incident and identify ways to use the incident to improve University procedures.

Strom emphasized that the police officer made a mistake that Strom feels does not reflect the police department as a whole.

“We’re not perfect. We make judgment calls along the way. I’m confident that we make good judgment calls all the time,” Strom said. “But sometimes we’re going to drop the ball, and this is an example I think where we made a poor judgment call. But I have confidence that these officers are committed to doing quality police work from the community, and I think it shows itself everyday.”

Students discuss issues of police racially profiling students on campus

Issues of University police racially profiling students on campus was a subject of discussion at Wednesday’s Student Union Senate meeting, where some students expressed concern that University police ask black students to present their IDs more often than white students.

Junior Gerald Jackson, community service chair for the Association of Black Students (ABS), said in an interview at Monday’s town hall forum on Mothers bar and race discrimination that he feels University police officers have racially profiled him in the past.

During Jackson’s freshman year, he said, a crime occurred on campus that was reported to have been perpetrated by a black man in a red hooded sweatshirt. Shortly after, Jackson was swiping his student ID to enter a building when a WUPD officer stopped him and asked if he was a student, according to Jackson. Jackson said he was wearing a red sweatshirt at the time.

Jackson said he felt he was unfairly targeted because he is black, and that he has had similar problems with University police on other occasions.

“I shouldn’t have to prove my status as a student every time I step outside my dorm,” Jackson said.

Strom said WUPD receives very few complaints about racial profiling on campus annually, despite thousands of contacts between University police and people on campus each year.

Strom also noted that many of the contacts between University police and people on campus are generated by calls from University members who are reporting what they perceive to be suspicious behavior. In these cases, University police are not independently approaching individuals but rather responding to reports from University members.

Strom said some people on campus perceive that police are racially profiling because of prior experiences with police officers.

“Frequently we find that people’s perception of law enforcement on our campus is guided by life experience they’ve had or contacts they’ve had with the police that have nothing to do with Washington University,” Strom said.

Strom also emphasized that WUPD officers are trained annually in issues related to racial profiling by the state of Missouri. Strom said police officers take issues of racial profiling seriously.

“I’ve not walked in an African-American’s shoes and had all the life experiences they’ve had, and I appreciate that. So I don’t pretend to know what that’s like,” Strom said. “But I also know that we take very seriously our responsibility to make our decisions based on factors that are not strictly related to race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or whatever it might be.”

With additional reporting by Michelle Merlin, Michelle Stein and Dan Woznica

  • Brian Bies

    While I can’t say anything about the issue at hand (I agree with jbird that those of us not directly involved do not yet have enough facts to make a judgement), I will say that, assuming what Strom says is true, this seems to be a problem not with WUPD but with WU students and staff.

    “Strom also noted that many of the contacts between University police and people on campus are generated by calls from University members who are reporting what they perceive to be suspicious behavior.”

    How can we fault the officers for simply responding to the reports of suspicious activity they have received? It would appear that a great deal of the racial discrimination could be alleviated simply by educating members of the WU community on what does and doesn’t constitute suspicious behavior.

  • wustl

    I guess we shouldn’t profile men anymore with regard to crime despite the fact that there are much more likely to commit crime than women. Isn’t this gender prejudice. We shouldn’t have an SU inquiry into gender profiling on campus and while were at it maybe they can appoint a commission to search for manbearpig on campus. It would surely be more useful than searching for water on campus like they are doing now.

  • jbird

    it’s really sad to see how quick people are to ‘pick a side’ unflinchingly. it’s not so clear that this was or was not racial profiling. we will never know. perhaps the officer really thought he had two laptop bags–in that case it was not. but maybe he didn’t. simply because he lied so as to not disclose the stakeout doesn’t mean he’s doing so to “cover up his (racist) tracks”. i’m not sure if we can label him as racial profiling or as just striking out on the basis of a judgment call.

    second, i don’t see why anybody can sooooo quickly say that it is absurd NOT to use race as a factor just because more black people are more likely to commit crimes. besides the possibilities that blacks are oversampled (on account of being black and, varying by location, perhaps on the proportion of black people overall), simply saying “yes–use race!” seems naive. i hate to be prejudice the situation but i imagine that 90% of the people who so quickly agree are NOT black. using race as the major factor could exacerbate racial tensions and leave open the possibility of overused discretion by cops. why not oversample whites also so that claims that they are using ‘race’ lose their vigor? i’m not saying we shouldn’t use race at all, but i don’t think it’s as simple as ‘once we establish its relevance we use it without any hesitation or contriteness’.

  • aba

    WHEN WILL CHANCELOR WRIGHT RESPOND? WILL STUDLIFE INTERVIEW WRIGHT ABOUT THIS INCIDENT?

    WHAT IS HIS RESPONSE WHEN THE FINGER OF ‘RACISM IS POINTED RIGHT AT THE UNIVERSITY?

  • wustl

    Hey John you complain about crime statistics not being localized to the WashU area. I challenge you to read the crime alerts put out by our police department and compare the crimes committed by blacks in the area vs whites: http://police.wustl.edu/crimealerts.html. Ignoring these statistics would be ignorant and jeopardize the safety of the Washington University community. How come we desire a color blind society only when the minority is put in a negative light, but say when reviewing college or medical school admissions a quota is put on minorities and this is a good thing? You can’t have it both ways.

  • Anonymous

    I agree COMPLETELY with what David and John have said above. Honestly I think people like Grice bring more prejudice against their own race when they pull out the “race card” every time an incident occurs. If you cry wolf too often, no one will take you serious.

    Take the recent incident of the Cambridge police officer. If something looks suspicious, I would much rather have the police double check the situation because nowadays criminals are becoming really good at doing things behind the scenes.

  • Gerald Jackson

    In response to David: as the student described in the second example, let me clarify my example, since there was a misprint.

    The suspect was wearing a red hoodie. I was wearing a relatively tight fitting red thermal shirt, which looks nothing like a hoodie. I’m swiping my way into my dorm before 10 pm and I was/am about 7-8 inches shorter than the description if the assailant. I’m visibly overweight, the assailant was supposedly slender. The only match between me and the assailant was a red top (disregarding the different material and design) and being a black male.

  • David Kotsonis

    John’s comment above seems eminently reasonable. In both cases, the subjects fit a profile for suspicious behavior.

    Laptop thefts? Guy carrying two laptop bags? Suspicious!

    Black male wearing red hoodie commits crime? Black male wearing red hoodie sighted shortly after? Suspicious!

    “Approached by a police officer as a result of fitting a suspect profile” != “arrested, tried, and sentenced.” The police officers would be actively remiss in their duty if they failed to approach these guys!

  • John

    I don’t see any evidence of racial profiling in this story.

    Fact: There has been an increase in the amount of crime including the theft of laptops.
    Response: Police officer sees an individual carrying what appears to be two laptop bags leaving a University building and requests the individual to present two forms of identification.

    That seems like a reasonable response to me. No arrests. Just asking him for identification. Where is the racial profiling? The logic behind this is: “A black person cannot be suspicious because it is racial profiling.”

    When police officers face disciplinary actions after acting in a completely reasonable manner their ability to work effectively in the future MUST be affected. Nobody here knows what was going through this officer’s head but because of the extreme left wing response of students and the University, you can be damn sure he will be thinking about this incident the next time he investigates a suspicious person.

    What if that prevents him from stopping a suspicious individual from entering a dorm on the South 40 and raping a freshmen girl? Considering the crime around the WashU campus, I would rather police officers do more than less.

    Being a police officer is difficult. Don’t make it tougher for them.

  • Sam

    So since there is another “race” issue, it would only be right for Wrighton to send a letter to the Mayor of Saint Louis, CNN, NPR, NAACP, Anti-defamation league, all other schools in the area, have a forum about it, and tell all potential students that if they are a minority they might be wrongly accused on campus. That would only be right if they followed the same way they approached the Mother’s issue.

    Maybe we should just put up a big sign at the edges of campus saying “watch out minorities the police are following you” That is essentially what WashU did to Mother’s Bar.

    So when is WUPD going to have race sensitivity training, fundraisers for education, etc?

    Think about that, then decide whether WashU took the Mother’s incident way too far.

    I agree with John, the whistle just blew now the ball is in your court WashU.

  • AA student

    I commend SU for actually doing something relevant. Congrats on making a step in the right direction.

    WU please take sometime to reflect. This is not all WUPD’s fault.

  • John

    The above comment exudes pure ignorance. This is “silly”? Actually it is a serious issue. You cannot apply nationwide statistics to the small community of WashU. Also the only thing statistics will say is that there are more black men in prison, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the rate at which people commit crimes unless you live in fantasyland where every criminal gets caught, every criminal gets their deserved sentence, and no one gets wrongly convicted. Unless you have the relevant statistics that pertain to WashU’s crime please keep your uneducated comments to yourself. Next time you feel the urge to make a comment about how a serious issue is “silly”, don’t. Just have a coke and a smile and STFU.

    Also it is ironic that this comes merely days after the Mother’s issue was supposedly revolved. In my opinion it was blown out of proportion to have the Chancellor write a letter to the mayor over a situation in one bar, especially since everyone was omitting very important facts such as how many other black people were in there, they were wearing backwards hats and that they crowded the manager when he was going to let them in. So we don’t have those facts and I think everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon. We shall truly see if WashU stands behind what they say, will they practice what they preach when it can have a strong negative impact on the school. If CNN aired a story with the headline of “Racist Police at Washington University” they same way they aired the Mother’s story that would strike many nerves. Let’s see if WashU contacts the anti-defamation league, or the NAACP or the FBI like they did last time. I am interested to hear what WashU has to say.

  • Yay

    Look who’s come out to play on the Studlife comments! This is why no progress is made. Because no one is willing to see the other side of the story.

  • James

    This is silly. I’m sorry that racial profiling has to happen, but statistically black men are more likely to commit crime than white men are, so the police would be foolish not to factor that into who they screen. I’m glad they are doing what they can to prevent crime.

  • Francis the Fieldmouse

    And here I was hoping that the fine members of the Student Life commentariat had finally stopped screaming at each other over the Mother’s thing.