UPD chief presents departmental transparency reforms to Student Council

Police Chief Tommye Sutton plans to introduce new transparency measures to UPD, education requirement to become an officer

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Sutton's plan includes increasing police transparency, better engaging with the students on Grounds and including students in the hiring process for future UPD officers.  

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

During the Student Council general body meeting Tuesday night, University Police Department Chief Tommye Sutton described his plan to improve the relationship between UPD and the student body. The plan includes increasing police transparency, engaging with the students on Grounds and including students in the hiring process for future UPD officers. 

Sutton began his tenure as chief of UPD on Aug. 1, replacing Michael Gibson, who announced his retirement in May.

UPD has faced criticism from students and community members within the past year for its lack of response to the white supremacist demonstrations of Aug. 11, 2017 near the Rotunda, as documented in an independent review by Tim Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney and current University Counsel. UPD was also criticized by community members this past August for a large massing of police personnel near the Academical Village during a U.Va. Students United rally at Brooks Hall. 

However, Sutton said he hopes to foster strong connections between UPD officers and the University community going forward. 

“We want to develop a relationship with students well before they need us, so that we’re on a first-name basis,” Sutton said. “All of that’s about to change so that, if you have any questions, you’ll know how to find my email address, or you’ll know how to find my office phone to give me a call. Because we are truly here to serve you.”

Sutton added that a new education requirement will be introduced prior to the next hiring cycle for the UPD, requiring either a bachelor’s degree or at least four years of military service. 

“Not to be exclusionary, but in this environment where we have first-years, we have [doctoral candidates], we have law students, they need officers that understand this environment,” Sutton said. “Officers that work on teams, individuals from different religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, just different ideologies in general.” 

Sutton said UPD will also begin to include students in the hiring process for all new officers, including student government organizations and minority student organizations. 

“It shouldn’t just be a person being interviewed by a table full of police officers deciding if this person should be a police officer, because they have one perspective,” Sutton said. “Because it’s easier to pick the right person on the front end than to manage that corrective action process on the back end for bad behavior.” 

Sutton said the department is also looking to completely overhaul its outreach and engagement efforts within the University community to include more diverse segments of the student body. 

“It’s the department’s job to engage holistically, not just have three or four officers do the work of engaging, so that you do know who we are,” he said. “That I’m not so unapproachable that you wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to me.”

Sutton also said the department will be prioritizing new forms of training for its officers moving forward — including “fair and impartial” policing practices and de-escalation tactics to mitigate conflicts — to allow the University community to be informed as to why officers are taking certain actions. 

Avery Gagne, a second-year College student and Student Council representative, asked whether Sutton would be willing to participate in a town hall with Student Council during which students from the University could ask questions of UPD. 

“If we can exchange ideas, and get actionable items, I’m for it,” Sutton said. “But I’m not going to yell with students, I’m not going to scream back and forth, it’s just not who I am as a person or a professional … But I’m not in favor of opening it up to a shouting match where someone lets you know how upset they are, but then leave, and we’ve accomplished nothing.”

Abigail Heher, a third-year College student and the chair of the Sustainability Committee, asked whether Sutton had any data on the education backgrounds of current UPD officers. 

Sutton responded that the department will soon be releasing a transparency report on the UPD website with information on the race and gender of all UPD supervisors, as well as their education backgrounds. 

The website will also be updated to include officers’ names, photos, emails, office location and phone numbers, according to Sutton. Sutton added that the department will be introducing a new transparency measure that involves issuing receipts to people who are stopped by police. 

“Another thing we’re going to take action on in the future  … is that when we stop an individual, we’re going to give that person a field stop receipt,” Sutton said. 

A field stop receipt would provide documentation stating which officer performed the stop, the date of the interaction, time and location of the stop and the reason for the incident.  

Finally, Sutton responded to a question about stop-and-frisk policy at the University, but was opposed to using the term ‘stop and frisk.’ The Charlottesville City Council received an update about stop and frisk practices — otherwise known as investigative detentions — for the City’s police department last week from Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney.

“Stop-and-frisk is illegal in the United States of America — You can’t do it, you have to have a basis of stopping an individual,” Sutton said. “Stopping someone for reasonable suspicion, to have reasonable belief that they have committed a crime, is lawful and legal, but stop-and-frisk in itself is illegal — and we definitely don’t engage in stop-and-frisk.” 

At the City Council meeting, Brackney gave a presentation on the city police department’s new method of collecting stop-and-frisk data. According to Brackney’s presentation, the data collected for September of this year showed that 33 percent of people stopped and searched in Charlottesville were African American, while roughly 18 percent of the City’s population is African American. 

Student Council President Alex Cintron, a fourth-year College student, has appointed Katie Kirk, a second-year College student and Safety and Wellness Committee chair, to chair the selection committee for a student police advisory board. The selection committee will hold its first meeting Wednesday, and the board is expected to meet for the first time Nov. 28. 

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