DPSS police chief discusses crime alerts, armed officers with faculty

Monday, November 28, 2016 - 8:07pm

Robert Neumann, police chief of the University of Michigan’s Department of Public Safety and Security, spoke with faculty leaders about prominent safety issues on campus on Monday, including the department’s handling of rape allegations and the extent to which campus police are armed. The discussion was part of a Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting.

Neumann and Richard Friedman, Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs police oversight chair, discussed the importance of DPSS being armed in light of emergencies like active shooters. Earlier Monday, a 20-year-old student attacked at least nine people at Ohio State University, leaving one victim in critical condition. The attacker, a former OSU student, was killed by Alan Horujko, a police officer at the university, after crashing his vehicle into pedestrians and attacking students with a knife.

“What happened at Ohio State is exactly why the University or any police department to operate effectively needs to have the ability to take down an active shooter with a field rifle,” Neumann said.

UMPD officers carry pistols, but often do not carry stun guns, tasers or other non-lethal weapons, Neumann later said.

In response to a question asked by Pharmacy Prof. David Smith regarding whether there is a conflict of interest when athletes who bring in revenue for the University are being investigated in a rape allegation, Neumann said DPSS is always objective and professional in their investigations.

“The administration understands our role as an independent law enforcement agency is that Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office trusts us to be objective and follow the facts where they lead,” Neumann said. “Athletics in particular is an area with a lot of sensitivity and so they probably get less slack than anyone else, quite honestly.”

Neumann also explained the process by which DPSS sends out crime alerts, saying the alert may not go out until, at times, several days after the crime was committed. After a man threatened to set a student on fire if she did not remove her hijab on campus earlier this month, a crime alert was sent out a day after the attack. At a City Council meeting on Nov. 21, a University lecturer spoke about being assaulted on campus, called for University action including a crime alert.

“Sometimes the incident doesn’t come to our attention until a day or two later and that’s a factor, an ongoing investigation or the case may be solved very quickly are also factors,” Neumann said. “To the extent that we can release information that we are highly confident is accurate, clear and timely and will help keep the community safe — these are some of the factors that go into it.”

SACUA members also discussed how to respond to a potential visit by white nationalist Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right,” a movement that promotes white supremacy and racism. Spencer told The Washington Post he would visit campus, but University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said in an email statement Sunday the University was not aware of any.

David Potter, an LSA representative to SACUA, said it is important for the University to be prepared.

“Maybe we should start thinking about coordinating with other groups on campus so that when we start getting people like Spencer showing up there is a coherent response,” Potter said. “We cannot wait until after he is already here.”

Engineering prof. Michael Atzmon, an Engineering representative to SACUA, noted instances of previous visits by similar individuals.

“There will always be violence in a case like that,” Atzmon said. “I remember when the KKK came to Ann Arbor.”

Kevin Hegarty, vice president and chief financial officer, also spoke at the meeting and answered faculty questions about the financial situation of the University.

Hegarty began by briefly discussing his responsibilities, which include the University’s finances, facilities and operations around campus, investment of the University’s portfolio as well as other duties. He said the University performed well, financially, this year, noting it’s debt.

“(The University) closed in very strong financial shape,” Hegarty said. “From a debt perspective, we ended the year with about $2 or $2.1 billion of debt, which I can tell you is not by any means overleveraged.”

In response to LSA Rep. and former SACUA chair Silke-Maria Weineck’s question regarding the ethical considerations of investment of University funds, Hegarty said profit is the overall objective. Many campus activists have urged the University to divest funds from companies they deem as unethical, such as those that have businesses in Israel or oil and coal companies.

“The board has taken the position that gives us the guidance as to how they want that portfolio ultimately invested,” Hegarty said. “They don’t want it to be a political football. They want to achieve the maximum return that they possibly can.”

Weineck responded to his answer by saying there is no way to invest the University portfolio without making a political statement.

“I think some people would say the very fact that certain ethical concerns are being handled politically is a political act,” Weineck said.

The annual investment report will be released Dec. 8 at the Board of Regents meeting, according to Hegarty.