It was a difficult day for University president James Duderstadt. Just after lunch, 45 student activists marched into his office and refused to leave until their demands were met. Later that night, hundreds more gathered in the plaza outside the Fleming Administration Building carrying candles and banners.
Led by then-MSA president Jennifer Van Valey, the students decided to leave Fleming and march down South University Street to Duderstadt’s house. The group, nearly 600 strong, banged on the door and rang the bell of the big white house, hoping to present their demands to Duderstadt in person. When he didn’t come out, they chanted warnings that he couldn’t avoid them forever.
If Duderstadt didn’t get much sleep that night, the protestors in his office got even less. After seven hours of occupation, Public Safety Officer David Russell made sure students were uncomfortable by keeping the temperature in the building low, switching on the office lights, and turning up his police radio to full volume.
At 5 p.m. the next day, students’ demands for negotiations with administrators were still unmet. Twenty-one protestors remained in the office when Leo Heatley, then-Director of the Department of Public safety, finally addressed the group. He declared the building closed and read them trespass rights. The 16 students who linked arms and refused to leave were arrested.
What cause did these students deem worthy of risking a misdemeanor charge? It wasn’t a war, or gender biases. It wasn’t even racial discrimination.
Students were protesting the deputization of the Department of Public Safety.
DPS officers haven’t always carried guns. Prior to the summer of 1990, the entire DPS police force consisted of just a few of security guards. On Aug. 22 of that year, the University Board of Regents voted 8-1 to “deputize” DPS, transforming it from a group of civilians into an independent police force – separate from both the Ann Arbor Police Department and the State troopers.
The creation of the department sparked widespread panic on campus. Many of the students and faculty members feared that the fledgling force would dedicate itself solely to squelching student activism and over-zealously enforcing drug laws. Three months after the decision, an ongoing campus effort to get Regents to rescind DPS’s status climaxed in the 26-hour sit-in at Fleming, but fizzled out shortly after.
The situation foretold by the original protestors wasn’t entirely fantasy. Complaints that officers give out too many tickets and solve too few crimes are familiar to most police departments. The University’s is no exception.
Last year, DPS cited 618 people for use or possession of an illegal substance, a threefold increase since the department was first deputized. But does DPS actually spend all its time babysitting students who choose to drink or smoke? Probably not. Still, it’s undeniable that over the years DPS has tightened its restrictions on the campus community.
Freedom and protection
If Duderstadt could retrace his steps in 1990, when he introduced the idea of a University police force to the Regents, he would have handled things slightly differently, he said.
“I would have done it earlier,” he told the Statement in a phone interview.
The need for a specialized campus police force is clear to Duderstadt, mostly because it puts the needs of University faculty, staff and students before those of city residents.
“We ran into situations when we would need help from the city, and they decided it wasn’t their priority,” Duderstadt said. “Furthermore, we’d run into situations earlier where the kind of protests we would be inclined to respect on campus were not treated quite as kindly by the Washtenaw Sheriff’s Department.”
But the idea that more police will mean more freedom isn’t palatable to everyone.
Eric Lipson, an Ann Arbor attorney, said he is not convinced that the administration was acting in the best interests of students when it deputized DPS.
“It’s just another way for the administration to keep their thumb on student behavior,”
Lipson said. “It’s just more police, that’s what it is.”
Lipson has lived in Ann Arbor for most of his life. For years, he worked as an attorney for Student Legal Services, which provides legal counseling and representation to students nearly free of charge.
Lipson added that he believes the recent nearly 30-percent drop in larcenies is more the result of improved technology than policing prowess. DPS has acquired a reputation with some for being less focused on safety and more focused on handing out
tickets. And even as the crime rate falls, the total number of arrests on campus continues to rise; the annual arrest tally increased by 483 in just six years. In 1999, it was 702. Last year it was 1,185.
Business senior Michael Brackney said he is put off by reports of assault and harassment on campus.
“Where’s DPS when that’s going down?” he said. “They’re out writing stupid citations.”
A bad rap
If DPS officers seem harsher than city officers, it’s probably because they are. The city of Ann Arbor has made amendments to its laws according to the general sentiments of the community. For example, the $25 marijuana fine imposed on city residents is much more lenient than state law, which dictates a $500 fine. Until 1990, the University operated under the same regulations, but when it acquired its own police force with its own set of officers, all University property went from being under the jurisdiction of AAPD to DPS and all city laws reverted back to state law.
The University has since put its own ordinances in place, but they all impose additional restrictions. If anything, they make state law more cumbersome.
Additionally, some DPS policies are different than those of the AAPD. Where AAPD will not require a pedestrian to take a breathalyzer test, DPS will level a $100 fine against anyone on the street who refuses to submit to a test.
DPS has no direct control over policies such as breathalyzer tests and University ordinances, which ultimately lie with the Regents, but nevertheless, DPS officers often take the heat for the tough laws they are sworn to uphold.
DPS sergeant Garry Hicks said his greatest challenge is forging relationships with students.
Hicks, the coordinator of DPS’s bicycle support team, is known affectionately within the department as “cute.” He stands two heads taller a normal person. He was hired on as a officer in 1991, when the budding police department was beginning to recruit certified police officers to its ranks.
In the wake of the protests, Hicks said he had to overcome a lot of mistrust within the student body.
“When I first got here we were the new kids on the block,” he said.
He added students adapted to police presence fairly smoothly. In the end, Hicks said students were the reason he stayed in Ann Arbor.
“When I worked in Detroit I went from tragedy to tragedy eight hours a day,” Hicks said. “It isn’t about tragedy here, it’s about education. So instead of putting a Band-Aid on a problem, I actually get to help.”
Up close and personal
The University is one of a handful of schools that has at least one housing security guard in the residence halls all day, every day.
Ian Steinman, assistant director of DPS and director of housing security, said officers in the residence halls perpetuated the University’s goal to be “proactive
rather than reactive.” But some residents are taken aback by the lack of privacy that comes with constant surveillance.
Steinman said he encouraged housing security officers to go on what he calls a “knock and talk,” which would give students a chance to get to meet their housing security officers in a low-pressure situation and get to know them personally.
“I always say I like for the students to refer to us as our officers,” Steinman said.
But a majority of students likely say that when housing officers knocked on their doors, it wasn’t a friendly call. A tactic many students use is simply refusing officers entry. Neither a resident advisor nor a security officer can legally enter a dorm room without a search warrant. So in the downtime, while the housing officer, who is not technically a policeman, reports back to DPS requesting official backup and a warrant, students have time to dispose of whatever contraband items they don’t want anyone to find.
LSA freshman Phillip Goldberg said he was grateful for the presence of the housing
He described his only encounter with housing security. When a friend in his hall had too much to drink and was throwing up in the dorm the housing security officer was more concerned with the student’s health than giving out MIPs.
“She just worried about getting him to a hospital,” Goldberg said. “Didn’t even give him an MIP at the end of the night.”
The officer Goldberg described could have been charged with a misdemeanor for failure to uphold the state’s tight liquor laws, but she’s probably not alone in granting occasional mercy toward inebriated students. DPS officers say that they do not take pleasure in giving out MIPs, and don’t go out on “party patrol.”
That’s the city’s job.
Town and gown
AAPD officers resemble DPS officers in a number of ways. They wear similar uniforms. They both drive white Crown Victorias. They both carry Sig Sauer guns.
But they enforce different laws in different places.
DPS jurisdiction doesn’t end at the sidewalk of the adjacent street. All streets and
sidewalks are automatically controlled by city police, but those directly adjacent to
University property are subject to joint-jurisdiction. In other words, if you get caught
smoking marijuana on the sidewalk, the department of the cop that catches you will
determine whether you get a slap on the wrist or a misdemeanor charge.
Contrary to popular belief, DPS never breaks up house parties, including fraternities and sororities, which are technically off-campus. Because of this, each year AAPD is responsible for hundreds more liquor arrests and citations than DPS is.
At times, despite the different jurisdiction and separate laws, AAPD and DPS work
together, and they work well according to AAPD sergeant Richard Kinsey.
“We’ve always been there for each other,” Kinsey said. He said the two departments
complement each other and often call on the other for aid, although Kinsey was quick to
add “They’re a proud department. They don’t ask for much.”
In addition to working with AAPD, DPS has collaborated on a number of cases with the
local FBI agency. FBI Special Agent Greg Stejskal named several cases in which he either asked or was asked by DPS for help, ranging from Internet snuff porn to a stolen meteorite to the Unabomber.
DPS director Bill Bess, said being a University police officer was as desirable a job as being a city officer or federal agent.
“They’re not wannabe police officers,” Bess said. “They’re here because they want to be University police officers.”
The University-wide budget cuts in recent years have affected most branches of the University, and although the University was relatively generous with DPS, it still had to drop a few of its programs.
According to Bess, the program that will be most sorely missed is the student employment program. The students were responsible for taking care of calls that normal DPS officers don’t have time for while they’re on patrol. Students assisted with jump-starts, vehicle lockouts and the S.A.F.E. Walk escort service.
In the days before the budget cuts, S.A.F.E. Walk was a 24 hour-a-day escort service staffed by student employees. Now, program volunteers walk students home, but only until 3 a.m., when they are advised to go to the Shapiro Undergraduate Library to pick up a free Yellow Cab.
Cops are people too
DPS officer Garry Veld patrols the streets of North Campus four nights a week, for 10 hours each. Starting at midnight, Veld cruises through parking lots, inspects the medical and science buildings, and checks on any areas historically prone to crime.
Veld says he recently began camping out next to a stop sign near the hospital after
hospital administrators complained to DPS that cars were frequently running the stop sign. He said he wasn’t out there giving tickets because of a requirement to give out a certain number, as AAPD does. He said he was there because of the “real potential for somebody to get hurt.”
“I’m pretty lenient,” he added. “They have to really blow it.”
Last Friday night Veld sat and watched at least 20 cars neglect to stop at the intersection before deciding to pursue a vehicle that had “not even slowed down.” He let the woman go with a verbal warning.
Although nobody likes to get a ticket, especially on a little-used University street, Veld was acting directly in response to concerns of the people he serves. Additionally, Veld specifically avoided pursuing meaningless charges.
If only the whole department were a little more like that.
The University’s zero-tolerance policies for underage drinking, the steep pot fines and the mandatory breathalyzer tests are all incongruous with the general atmosphere and climate on campus, even though DPS has made a tangible difference in other areas of crime prevention.
The University relentlessly penalizes students who drink on campus. Although DPS is not directly responsible for changing ordinances or altering policies, its recommendations are taken seriously by those who make the decisions.
But without any impetus from the department itself, the responsibility to change policies lies with the students. Students have historically had little say over decisions made by the Regents. Without a direct channel to the Regents or DPS itself, students are left with few avenues to enact change. Bess says the best way for students to make themselves heard is through the Michigan Student Assembly, the same governing body that led the fruitless charge against deputization 16 years ago. But MSA’s activism techniques are rusty. The last big event they put on for the campus was not a protest. It was a Ludacris concert.
“Actually I kind of long to see the days when the marches across the Diag were more frequent,” Duderstadt said. “I think it’s unfortunate in a way. Student activism animates the community.”
Until then, students will continue their love-hate relationship with the campus police force.