Response time: BUPD receives recommendations on how to improve policing

Results and recommendations from the BUPD advisory group were released on Nov. 18. Photo by Lauren Jindrich. 

ELLIE ALLEN | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | emallen2@butler.edu

FRANCIE WILSON | DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR | fwilson@butler.edu

HENRY BREDEMIER | MANAGING EDITOR | hbredeme@butler.edu

Quotes from the anonymous report will be referred to using the attributes given to them in the report. 

542 days after the death of George Floyd and the reevaluation of policing that followed, Butler University released a report detailing campus sentiments surrounding the Butler University Police Department and recommendations for improvements. 

Recommendations proposed by the advisory group that commissioned the report include implementing body-worn cameras, establishing an oversight board and developing a comprehensive and culturally responsive mental health initiative. These suggestions were formed based on the results of interviews, focus groups and a survey sent out to the Butler community conducted by Black Onyx Management

President James Danko said the report brought forward questions about the role of policing on Butler’s campus.

“That report elevated some questions about exactly what is the role of BUPD and what the appropriate place to call for certain things that might arise,” Danko said. “That runs the gamut from I’ve lost my keys [and] I need a ride, to there’s somebody in my student housing unit that’s having a serious mental health crisis. So who’s the first line of contact? And I could see where that becomes kind of complicated, especially in the heat of a moment.” 

Danko also said he appreciated the thoughtfulness and the time the advisory report took to get it right.

“These things kind of emerge out of a more emotional situation as they did back in May of 2020 and around the George Floyd thing it seems any time something bubbles up, because everybody looks at those as rather horrific situations, and it starts to put a spotlight on [that issue],” Danko said. “[The report’s release got away] from the point in time where there was a little bit more emotion around it.” 

Bruce Arick, vice president of Finance and Administration — the department BUPD reports to  — said he has met with Chief of Public Safety John Conley to discuss the report and the accompanying recommendations. Both Conley and Arick said the creation of an Oversight Board is their number one priority, and Arick said he expects the Board to be created “within the next 30 to 60 days.” 

Arick said they will follow the recommendation from Black Onyx and comprise the Oversight Board of university leadership — including the chief of police, general counsel, chief of staff, vice president of student affairs, vice president of human resources as well as himself. The recommendation also specifically stated students should be members, yet Arick is unsure on the feasibility of students being permanent members. 

“That’s something that we’ll have to  — depending upon the matter  — we’ll have to work through how to involve a student or students on that group,” Arick said. “Because there could be a circumstance where we’ll have to navigate that.”

Arick said once the Oversight Board is in place, they will meet to discuss how to implement the recommendations given in the report. He said that while some recommendations like body-worn cameras will come with a large price tag, most recommendations will have minimal cost beyond staff time. With that, Arick said he expects many changes sooner rather than later. 

“Probably as much as 60 to 70% of these [will be] implemented or well on their way to implementation by the end of the school year,” Arick said. 

Conley said BUPD has already been working to improve policing on campus. A few examples include encouraging officers to take crisis intervention training and updating policies, such as the use of force policy, to reflect federal standards.

Results from a survey filled out by 1,200 students, faculty and staff, and community members found that generally people feel safe on campus, but students of color are less likely to trust BUPD.

Marginalized Identities

The results of the report found discrepancies in several categories based on race. Of the 1,200 people included in the survey, 85.3% were White. 

When asked to rate interactions with BUPD on a scale from one to 10, people of color rated their interactions lower than White community members. White participants rated their encounters a 7.88 on average, while Black participants ranked their experience a 6.46 on average.

Paul Ford, a sophomore entrepreneurship and innovation major, said he believes that policing on campus is currently negative.

“I haven’t heard many positive things about BUPD and have often heard things about them not handling certain issues, in the way that it should be handled,” Ford said. “I understand that a lot of sections of campus rely on them. But speaking to the people who I’ve talked to, I think there’s specific areas of campus, specifically, marginalized communities who don’t feel safe, who are more likely to give those negative pieces of feedback.” 

Of the 52 people interviewed, 57.7% were White. According to the report, relative to the Butler population, Black students were oversampled — making up 28.9% of the group — “in order to adequately capture thematic response saturation among the minority population.”

Some Black faculty members had concerns about students of color interacting with BUPD on campus.

“Every time our students are driving back home, I get nervous,” a Black male faculty member said. “It’s fear because when I was in college, I was pulled over every week … so I have to have a [BU] logo on every time I go out at night. And that’s kind of the thing that we tell our [students].”

A Black female student voiced similar concerns specific to BUPD.

“I cannot say I really trust them to serve and protect me,” the woman said. “I just try to keep my distance and make no interactions.”

Another Black faculty member emphasized this point.

“A lot of students of color have told me that they feel unsafe, that if they come late night on campus, they are wearing a hoodie, they are carrying a pizza, BUPD stops them, [and] asks them what they are doing here,” the Black male faculty member said. “So how do you recruit non-white students to a primarily white serving institution when those students do not have the incentive to come here because they are not treated like everyone else?”

A multiracial female living in the area said she often walks with her family on campus and has experienced uncomfortable situations with BUPD. 

“The people of color in my family have been unnecessarily stopped or followed,” the woman said. “I feel safe because of the community and neighbors. Not necessarily because of BUPD.”

This same theme was seen throughout the report. People of color rated their feelings on BUPD as lower than White participants in categories related to: feelings of safety, respect and trust of BUPD, view of BUPD as fair, respectful and diverse, and BUPD’s ability to de-escalate the situation, be accountable and transparent. Along with this, the people of color surveyed were also less likely to report crimes to BUPD.

Conley said he wants to improve the relationship between BUPD and people of color. 

“There’s a lot of students that come to Butler when they come here they are 18 years old or older and there’s already some things ingrained in them about policing that they have grown up with and there are things that I can’t change, or we can’t change overnight,” Conley said. “But I think what we do is we continue to do the best we can at communicating and having those benign, so to speak, contacts and events and things where people get to see that what we do here is really in the best interest of the students and all we want is the best for them.” 

Mental Health

Results of the report found that while those surveyed did not wish to defund or abolish BUPD, groups wanted to see policing alternatives used on campus. 88.9% of participants stated that they believed mental health professionals should be the first responder in mental health crisis situations. 

Based on this, the advisory group recommended establishing a mental health crisis response protocol which would include investing in additional resources for student life staff, mental health professionals and giving BUPD a back-up, supporting role. 

Conley agreed that mental health issues should not fall solely under BUPD’s responsibility. 

“It’s really hard as a policeman when you get to the scene and somebody is being violent,” Conley said. “You have to use some level of force in order to restrain somebody, and then, have somebody say well, ‘this shouldn’t have been done like this, this is a mental health thing,’ well that should have been done a couple of months before that incident happened with that person. So, it’s being able to have those resources, train for those resources and then identify and get people to those resources before it becomes an issue where law enforcement even has to be involved.” 

Reporting residential issues is a topic that several students brought up in terms of finding alternatives to BUPD intervention. Ford, who is also an RA on campus, said he agrees that there should be alternatives. 

“I feel uncomfortable with the way that certain residential issues are addressed with BUPD,” Ford said. “There are certain things that we have to report to the BUPD regardless of whether we think we can handle it ourselves or not. But just the way that we’ve experienced I think, in residential spaces, how BUPD can escalate certain issues. I’d want different initiatives in residence life that would be less reliant on them.”

University President James Danko also sees mental health as a high priority issue on campus.

“We already have been adding resources when it comes to mental health,” Danko said. “It’s one of those things that has got to be done in partnership with what’s happening in a comprehensive view of mental health on campus. It’s a particular topic of concern, so anything BUPD is doing in that area, which would be done in cooperation with Student Affairs.”

Butler University has not provided additional details to how this plan will specifically be implemented.

Complaints and Reporting 

A BUPD officer said the lack of complaints led them to believe that there were not any issues within the department.

“I do not see [BUPD departmental changes] being necessary, because there is not very many complaints that come, that have been initiated or, or any complaints at all,” a BUPD officer said. “I do not think that they’re there … I do not think it is worth it.”

However, when it came to awareness of BUPD services, on average participants said they did not have knowledge on BUPD officers, policies, training or how to file a complaint with BUPD. 

One Black male student said he had little knowledge about the complaint process.

“I didn’t know that there was a [complaint] process,” a Black student said. “So, I think that is kind of telling.”

A White male student who is also an RA on campus said he avoids having to interact with BUPD because the encounters he has had in the past have been negative.

“There have been times where they have ignored us, not shown up to facility emergencies or tried to crack jokes during serious situations, including reports of sexual assault and medical emergencies,” the male RA said. “The officers have showed no respect to the pandemic at all. Multiple officers have walked through our Residence Hall with no masks on, and have even responded to incidents without masks on. As student leaders, we feel powerless. We feel that we have to put up with these antics, since we know that nothing will come out of it if we report it. We have to come to expect that officers will not respond in a professional manner.”

A community member also voiced concerns about the complaint process when she brought up an issue with BUPD via email, found in the Appendix of the report, that was never responded to. 

“I am disgusted that in possibly trying to keep Butler safe, the Butler Police have made community members feel unsafe,” the email said. “I am devastated and enraged. Butler’s police have continued to widen an already huge gap in the race-class history that exists in the Rocky Ripple and Butler Tarkington Neighborhoods.” 

Similarly to the complaint process, several concerns were also raised about reporting crimes. The report found that people of color were less likely to report crimes. 

There were also themes in the interviews of BUPD escalating situations when crimes or emergencies were reported. A White non-binary student said they would not call BUPD, even in the case of an emergency.

“In the past BUPD has only escalated situations rather than help solve them,” the student said. “I have witnessed them yell at students having a panic attack and be unkind to students in crisis. I will not call them in case of emergency.” 

Another student felt BUPD failed to take into account that they are often the only place that students have to turn. 

“I think one thing that BUPD fails to recognize at times is that for the majority of us, we are a significant distance from home and like on a campus where we don’t really know what to do,” a Black female student said. “We are always told that the police are like a resource, and they are there to help you … I think that sometimes maybe if you were in your hometown, … you might call someone else who could handle this situation, because maybe it’s not like an emergency and doesn’t need to be handled by the police at that moment … And I think that a lot of times BUPD dismisses things that they feel like aren’t emergencies or aren’t like violent acts. And I think that, especially if you are gonna work on a university, it is just important to recognize that students don’t have any other resources to turn.” 

To file a complaint with BUPD online: Go to www.butler.edu, click on “Campus Safety” under the “Campus Life” heading, click “Contact BUPD” and a link is under “Report a Crime / Parking Appeals / Complaints and Compliments.”

To report a crime: In an emergency, call 911. In a non-emergency situation, call 317-940-BUPD. 

 

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