Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
A recent Washington Post article covered the changing legislation in Baltimore that would allow universities such as John Hopkins to shift from their current security force to a private police force — which is the model we have at Trinity. Many families and students in Baltimore opposed the legislation, arguing that it could worsen tensions towards minority groups and is undemocratic.
Sarah Kaufman, professor of sociology and anthropology, discussed the issues raised by the article in the context of Trinity.
“We’re quite different than a university in the middle of Baltimore. San Antonio’s crime rates are nothing like theirs and the immediate neighborhoods that we border on are are among the wealthiest and among the lowest crime rates in the city,” Kaufman said.
Junior Monica Lampton shared her perspective on the question of campus police departments.
“I don’t think that there should be a police force on campus, and I don’t think they’re necessary. I don’t think they’re necessarily helping students either because the proposed benefit is that you have somewhat of a middleman between students and the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD),” Lampton said.
While having this sort of buffer can be helpful, Lampton also believes that it may not always be fair.
“If something were to happen on campus that could tarnish Trinity’s reputation, what is keeping them from sweeping it under the rug with our own police department?” Lampton said. “Regardless of whether this is happening on campus or not, students feel that by reporting to an inner-police department … it comes off as a little shady for the university.”
Lampton noted that there is a growing national distrust of police and the justice system itself, which does exist for some students at Trinity.
She also argued that because of the small scale of the most frequent issues being handled by TUPD (such as alcohol or drug violation and stolen items), she feels there is not much reason to have armed officers. Lampton added that like on some other campuses that simply have security rather than a police force, having batons or Tasers could do the job.
“For whatever reason, I do have a distrust of police officers and having them around and [being able to] see their guns, just walking around campus. It does bother me.”
In junior Austin Dolan’s opinion, TUPD is ultimately more helpful than hurtful.
“I think that police have too large a role in society,” Dolan wrote in an email interview. “That being said, on a private campus you need some sort of group to address miscellaneous issues such as the flow of traffic, parking, providing assistance to students, etc. I also think it is important that there be some sort of authority that engages in the protection of women on our campus, especially in response to cases of sexual assault or rape (however, I question if police are the best first responders for cases such as these).”
In terms of justice of processing crimes such as sexual assault internally, Kaufman argued that outsourcing to SAPD and the problematic justice system would not be a solution.
“There is no one who suggests that the criminal justice system is very good at dealing with sexual assault either, so I would challenge the idea that we should become more like that in order to benefit survivors of sexual assault,” Kaufman said.
Paul Chapa, chief of police of TUPD, also responded to the Washington Post article and the concerns shared by the outspoken students. He has worked over 28 years in university police both state and private and described his perspective on the national tensions with police.
“What I’ve seen in regards to the national climate, not just for university policing but for municipal and county as well, is that different situations have evolved across our nation that highlight the some of the issues that the police have with the community and that the community have with the police that are ignited by a number of different things,” Chapa said.
Chapa added that while police are not perfect and have issues like every other industry, they are a committed force in institutions of higher education.
“It’s a department division there for the service of the community, for students, faculty and staff.”
He also described the difference of the training and types of services police officers can provide as opposed to security guards.
“When you start dividing those services between security and police, you’re looking at training and education for certified state police officers, who may go through six to 12 months of police academy being exposed to a diverse number of situations, while security may be more of a two-week course that they take,” Chapa said. “The caliber of the individual you’re going to have as a part of that force is night and day.”
On the issue of punishment and justice in regard to Trinity students committing crimes, he focused on Trinity and their police departments more restorative approach.
“Our philosophy here at Trinity is to not be punitive in our actions but to create teaching moments. For example, if you have a student in possession of a small amount of marijuana — laws in Texas still identify that as being illegal — but we may resort to having that case refer to the internal judicial process.”
TUPD is certified by Best Practices, credited by the Texas Police Association of Police Chiefs and the International Association of Campus Law Administrators, which have identified this department as meeting all the qualifications.
Kaufman elaborated on how in the restorative justice model, which Trinity implements with its alcohol and other policies, sanctions at the university are generally not meant to be criminally punitive.
“Restorative justice treats offenders as part of the community, and that it is their job and the job of the community to acknowledge what has happened and treat it as a harm to the community,” Kaufman said. “It shifts the thinking about criminality from a perspective that their are criminals that are not ‘us’ to thinking about it as something that is present in every community and that all of us are capable of.”
Kaufman believes this model and its focus on reparation and restoration can be very efficient in a small community like Trinity.
In terms of TUPD carrying guns, Chapa argued that without them, an officer may not have the ability to address situations involving violent individuals who may have knives or guns, endangering not only to the officer but the community members.
Data on active shooters has also noted that shootings happen in fewer than 10 minutes.
“So for us to be present and be unable to address the threat we may be experiencing, we may have to wait eight minutes for the first responding officer in the city of San Antonio,” Chapa said. “The clock is ticking. Having the resources available on campus to address that immediate threat is paramount to the security and sanctity that we enjoy here at Trinity.”
Chapa commented that TUPD’s inside knowledge of the locations and happenings on campus also makes them more effective and prepared to respond to such incidents.
He added that TUPD’s priority is the safety and security of students, from potential but critical situations to the more mundane tasks of responding to fire alarms, student requests, unlocking buildings or reporting stolen items.
“In our resident community, where students are living day-in and day-out, eating, sleeping, going to library at all times of the night, we need to make sure that we are creating an environment that is service oriented to all their needs. That’s our focus, and I want to make sure our student body understands that.”