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Campus Safety Commission examines “trust” between student and police at UNC-Chapel Hill

The last semester at UNC-Chapel Hill saw continued tensions between campus police and students, from allegations of aggression toward anti-racist protesters  to restriction of first amendment rights and  denial of proper access to public meetings.

Last week the school’s newly formed Campus Safety Commission met, as reported by The Daily Tarheel, to begin to tackle the lack of trust between the campus community and police.

From the story:

“The seed that started this commission was a profound mistrust of the way in which the police acted, especially during the Silent Sam protests, and the sense that they were not answerable to anyone. No one knew when they filed a complaint, what happened to the complaint, who was investigating the complaint,” said Lawrence Grossberg, a professor in the communications department.

“There’s a profound lack of trust that the police are actually interested in protecting the interests of all the parties involved,” he said.

Many members of the commission are concerned about a disconnect between the campus community and the police, as well as the ambiguities in the campus policing process.

“They feel they can not speak out for fear of their jobs. So they welcome the commission to be their voice to address their concerns,” said a commission member.

The commission heard two guest speakers — Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and risk management and Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director contracted by UNC as a consultant after the toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument last August.

Kemp had some criticism for police over the timeliness of their reporting a “flash mob” style protest on campus by the white supremacist group Patriot Front last month.

Swecker tried to explain the campus police’s working closely with pro-Confederate monument groups while having a largely antagonistic relationship with anti-monument protesters.

Swecker said that pro-monument groups often coordinate with police before arriving on campus. They sometimes receive parking instructions.

“That presents an optic that makes it look like the police are protecting them,” he said, but argued that UNC’s campus presents a complicated policing environment, and the communication helps police to establish a safer environment for protestors and counter-protestors to demonstrate without violently interacting with each other.

“They’re essentially the referee, umpire, no one’s going to like what they do,” Swecker said of the police.

The commission’s work has been criticized by some students and professors who declined to participate in it, saying it is not up to those working for change on campus to figure out a way to get along with the police force they see as committed to maintaining an untenable status quo.

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