Police actions questioned

By Matt Gilbert

It’s a problem that has been in the national spotlight recently. It has led to riots, lawsuits and high profile trials. It’s police misconduct, and one Student Association senator is alleging that it’s here at NIU.

“Tonight I’m going to talk to you about something that we as a senate have not addressed and we need to address. I’d ask everyone tonight to take off the blinders,” SA Sen. Richard Baker began. “Tonight I’m speaking to you about police conduct.

“Here at NIU I went to hear one of my student organizations. There was a great concern over police misconduct,” he said.

One example he cited was a case where a police officer drove past two female students walking down Stadium Drive.

Baker alleged that as the women walked, the officer shouted something at them as he quickly drove past. The women did not understand what he said. Ten seconds later the officer returned and issued the women two $65 tickets for jaywalking. Baker characterized the tickets as being “undue harassment.”

“I asked the president of this university, ‘Do you jaywalk?'” Baker said. “He said, ‘Yes I do. Every day. Everyone does it. How can you avoid doing it on a college campus?’

“I watched the officer who issued the tickets. You know what he did when he got off work? He jaywalked right on to his car,” Baker said. “That’s unfair. It’s wrong.”

University Police Captain James Webster responded by saying Baker is entitled to his opinion about the tickets being harassment.

Baker also mentioned a recent incident at a dance. “Apparently there was a student there who had a problem,” he said.

Baker claimed the officers mishandled the situation. “Instead of the officer handling himself in an orderly manner to calm the student down, it automatically escalated. The student was tied, shackled by his hands and his ankles and carried out. Mace was sprayed in his face.”

Webster said the person arrested at the dance may not have been a student. He said when the officer asked him to produce a student ID, the arrested individual “asked the officer to perform biological impossibilities on himself.” Then he struck at the officer and was arrested.

Webster also said mace was not used at the dance as Baker suggested, but pepper spray was used. He said it contains the active ingredient in pepper and is sold legally in Illinois.

The arrestee got shackled because when the police had him down he was still kicking and flailing, Webster said, even with the pepper spray.

“It’s more effective on somebody who’s drunk or on drugs. It’s a nice humane way to get someone to stop doing what they’re doing,” Webster said.

However, Baker said the physical effects of mace sprayed “uncontrollably” in the Chick Evans Field House caused the students at the dance to get in a “ruckus.”

“They get enthusiastic and they’re ready to get out. They want to breathe. They could not breathe,” Baker said.

“It was blamed on the students, but what about the police conduct?”

When asked about the effects on the crowd of spraying, Webster replied that Baker “got his facts absolutely wrong.”

Vice President for Business and Operations James Harder said, “I would like to defer commenting on (Baker’s allegations about the dance) until I can talk to the University Police. I am somewhat aware of the jaywalking incident because that happened last fall, a year ago.”

Baker said solutions might include diversity on the police force and sensitivity training. He added that he didn’t necessarily consider charges of police misconduct to be a racial issue.

Webster agreed with Baker that more ethnic diversity is needed in the police force. “Unfortunately, the university does not pay competitively. We would like very much to have African-American women. Right now the force has two African-American men. Unfortunately, once they get certified, they get hired away by forces that pay better.

“We’d like very much to have more ethnic diversity,” Webster said. “We’d like to have Latino and Latina, African-American and Asian officers.”

Baker also mentioned a police review board as a possible solution. “Someone told me there was one. What students are on it? I haven’t heard anything about it.”

Baker asked the SA Senate to review the situation and come up with a resolution to deal with it.

SA Sen. Nolan Hendreson agreed with Baker. He noted that the police review board Baker spoke of only had two meetings. The committee dissolved after that because of low attendance at those meetings. Hendreson claimed a student showed up at one meeting and was so intimidated he never returned.

Webster also said in the late 1960s and early 1970s the force recruited from the students, but for some reason the practice stopped.

“We would like to have more students take the civil service test and get on the register. If there is an opening they can become police officers. We want students on the department, especially people who are minority or protected class. We would like the ethnic make-up of the department to mirror the campus at large,” he said.