The Department of Public Safety has dealt with racially motivated hate crimes and bias incidents several times this semester, but now DPS faces complaints regarding its own practices. Members of the University’s NAACP chapter have recently complained of racial targeting by DPS officers. Such discriminatory practices not only marginalize members of the black community, but also destroy DPS’s legitimacy as an organization capable of doing more than handing out minor-in-possession violations. Although these allegations have not been officially confirmed, the growing perception that DPS unfairly targets minority students signals a larger, more deeply rooted problem. The Police Oversight Committee must address these concerns by investigating the students’ allegations and communicating with campus groups to improve relations between DPS and the black community.
The NAACP expressed concerns with DPSA’s practices at a recruiting event in the Michigan Union for the National Pan-Hellenic Council. During the event, DPS used questionable tactics, employing video surveillance and parking a police van outside the Union. Without a formal investigation, is it difficult to know whether this incident was the result of discriminatory practices or merely normal DPS protocol. But when so many students continue to speak out against DPS practices, something is certainly wrong.
If DPS is concerned about the safety of students at a campus event, it should talk with the event’s organizers to discuss its surveillance procedure. Many students were not bothered so much by the presence of DPS at the black Greek community event as by DPS’s use of videotaping. Should DPS wish to use such tactics, it cannot target minority groups, and it should thoroughly explain its procedures. Increased transparency will only foster a better campus atmosphere and improve the relationship between DPS and the campus community.
Many black students said the Union event was not the only instance of racial targeting. They have also been concerned that DPS crime alerts singled out minority students with vague descriptions. In response to black students’ complaints, the Ann Arbor Police Department made plans to speak with the NAACP about its own policies; DPS should follow suit. But if the students’ allegations are confirmed, it will take more than dialogue but significant reforms to ensure DPS does not perpetuate the racism it is trying to fight.
No student should feel singled out or targeted based on his race, particularly not from an institution intended to protect the community. The Police Oversight Committee must immediately investigate whether DPS has been targeting the black community. Regardless of whether the committee can confirm these allegations, DPS cannot be dismissive of the widespread perception that DPS targets black students, and it can increase its transparency to prove it is doing nothing wrong.