SGA President Thomas Crowe-Allbritton stands alongside officers from the department of Police and Public Safety at the forum hosted on November 5. PN Photo/Ky’Aire Goode
The Student Government Association and the department of Police and Public Safety hosted a Public Safety forum on November 5. Police opened the floor for students to voice any questions, comments or concerns pertaining to public safety. Many students left the event dissatisfied with the dialogue they had with police.
SGA President Thomas Crowe-Allbritton served as the host for the event.
The forum was divided into two portions: the first, where questions were written on pieces of paper which were then read by Crowe- Albritton. The second was an open forum, where audience members were free to ask the officers questions.
A majority of the questions and comments posed to police centered back to the October 12 pepper spray incident that affected about 40 people at the Homecoming tailgate.
The opening question revolved around what the officers would do to increase safe interactions between campus police officers and students. Sgt. Shawn Clark responded to the question with “What we have noticed is a lack of attendance at the events that we have, so what it does is leave us questioning ‘Well what else can we do?’”
Another question posed to the officers asked what they would do to ensure what happened at Homecoming would never happen again. Lt. Derrick Locklear, who often spoke for his fellow officers, stated that it was an “isolated incident that involved one officer.” Eventually, the audience was given what would become a familiar refrain throughout the two-hour forum: training and improved communication.
Chief Cummings stated multiple times that “We’re trained just as well, if not better than other departments within the system (meaning the UNC system).”
Multiple students, after standing in line for over an hour, stepped up to the microphone and spoke of their interactions with the campus police. While some were positive, there were others that were not-a female student, who is African-American, said that officers referred to her as a “b----” during a university event.
Chief Cummings refused to indicate whether the officer responsible was fired or resigned, only saying he was “dismissed”, since the investigation is still ongoing.
Many of the officers spoke sparingly throughout the entire forum, and as the evening progressed, fewer spoke still. Officer McBryde, the lone female on the panel, asked the audience who had had a negative interaction with campus officers; multiple hands shot up.
Dr. David Walton addresses campus police PN Photo/ Ky’Aire Goode
Dr. David Walton, assistant professor of history and head of the African-American studies unit spoke for much of the audience when he said that “Blame was shifted on us (referring to the pepperspray incident). ”
That is how it had seemed throughout the entire evening-questions would be posed, and the officers would speak in circles, leaning on the “training and communication” answers,” Walton said. Campus Police relations with student organizations are growing strained after numerous incidents involving officers resurfaced during the forum.
Spectrum, the LGBTQ+ organization at UNCP voiced concern about officers attending their Safezone training and not paying attention to the information being given.
“The officers were not listening, playing on their phones, and left their informational packets behind that were supposed to be used as a resource.” Spectrum media secretary Jackie Porter said.
Campus Police defended their actions at the safezone training, citing workrelated reasons for being on their phones at times.
Fraternity and Sorority Life also voiced complaints. Representatives from fraternities on campus felt that campus police do not do a good enough job of trying to understand what fraternities do, including probates and stroll routines.
National panhellenic council president Cassidy Ray felt that officers deflected the issues he and others presented, and put too much pressure on students to fix police-campus relations.
“We tried to bring up certain aspects of student life, and they got defensive when they were answering. If we’re trying to have a conversation, we have to be open-minded.” Ray said.
“I came here tonight to see if accountability would be taken, it was not.” student and pepper spray attack victim Pia Reed said.
The investigation into the pepper spray incident, including the officer’s name, will be made public after its conclusion. Students and campus police continue to work toward building stronger relations.