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Officer conduct signals problems with UPD

Law enforcement should do everything possible to foster good relationships with students

Immediately after the presidential election, in a move that spawned protests on Grounds, three University Police Department officers were put on leave for harassing students by repeating “Make America Great Again” over their public address system. While isolated to three officers, the incident affirms existing concerns about whether police can impartially apply the law. This is troubling both for students who are increasingly distrustful of law enforcement, and for police officers who have struggled with lower favorability levels nationwide.

For students, these concerns are validated by a history of infrequent yet painful interactions with law enforcement. What occurred last week was not the first time in recent memory that law enforcement agents have acted out of line. Less than two years ago, Alcoholic Beverage Control agents attacked then-third-year student Martese Johnson on the Corner. While these officers represented a different agency, repeated harassment of students only further inflames negative perceptions of police.

The consequences are potentially severe. The University has sought to address safety through increased policing. But how can we expect students who feel threatened by the recent uptick in hate crimes and policies that might follow the election to seek out officers at the new UPD substation when some have harassed students for their political beliefs?

The suspended officers’ conduct is not representative of the many law enforcement officers who do their jobs in good faith. Whether or not the recent protests are the best way to address law enforcement misconduct, it’s clear that three police officers complicit in active student harassment is troubling. Especially in this polarized time, UPD Police Chief Michael Gibson should take extra steps to help the department avoid incidents like this going forward.


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