Friday marks three months since the University of Maryland Police’s pepper spray investigation came to a close. During this time, not much has changed.
The department has not yet implemented diversity training or completed a use of force policy review, and it does not expect the amount of information released from this incident — a chief summary report and select body camera footage — to set a precedent.
Students posted videos and photos on social media expressing outrage after police used pepper spray to disperse a graduation party of predominantly black students at Courtyards on May 21. These videos, the community outcry and public records requests were among the reasons the department released footage, University Police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said.
Hoaas labeled the pepper spray incident “unique,” and whether footage will be released for other use of force incidents in the future will be determined on a “case-by-case” basis, she added.
The publicized footage helped tell the complete story from the incident, said David Lloyd, chief of staff for University Police, but not all of the available footage was released. Lloyd said the footage provided — which came from the body cameras of two out of 12 responding officers — offered what police considered pertinent information.
“A lot of the other video that was shot was just people standing around after the fact,” Lloyd said. “… It wasn’t anything interesting or points of note, and there was a lot of it.”
Because the information released during the pepper spray investigation will not set a standard for future incidents, Student Government Association President Katherine Swanson said it’s up to the community to hold University Police accountable.
The SGA and University Police are committed to improving student and police relationships, Swanson said, citing the SGA co-sponsored town hall event in August with Police Chief David Mitchell and tonight’s University Police-sponsored dinner with members of the campus community.
“While it worries me that it doesn’t set a precedent, I do think that the people in the community — it kind of did set a precedent for them,” Swanson said. “That they do need to call out the police when they’re doing something wrong.”
Mitchell said in his summary report about the May 21 pepper spray incident investigation that the officers’ hostile approach caused the situation to escalate, and ordered all officers to receive training on diversity and implicit bias. This training has not happened yet but is scheduled to occur in the winter solely for patrol officers and their direct supervisors, Lloyd said.
These officers will receive the first batch of training because they have the most “direct involvement” with the campus community, Lloyd said. Lorie Fridell, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, who is coordinating the training, said she is working with the department to schedule command-level training sessions in 2017.
The training, titled Fair and Impartial Policing, examines the manifestations of implicit bias, which, for example, could lead an officer to assume a gathering of black college students “bodes trouble,” according to training materials. It is customized for differing officer and management levels and includes various modules to promote unbiased policing.
Mitchell’s report also mandated a review of the department’s use of force guidelines with community feedback. However, this is not complete either. The department is still examining its guidelines internally, and there is no set date for when the policy review will be finished, Lloyd said.
Senior finance major Bria Sladden, who is also president of the Black Student Union, said University Police should disclose a timeline of this process to students, notifying them as steps are completed.
“It looks like there’s nothing being done, and that’s the issue,” Sladden said. “Students that were affected are kind of sitting and waiting on the edge of their seats trying to figure out, ‘Hey, what’s next after this happened to me?'”
Although university President Wallace Loh commended the department for “transparency” following the release of Mitchell’s 1,015-word summary report, it is unusual for the university community to receive this much insight into use of force incidents.
Typically, such occurrences are aggregated into a yearly internal affairs report, and there are no detailed explanations for the 331 use of force incident reviews from 2010-15. The incidents that do require the department to conduct an internal affairs investigation are summarized in a relatively vague, three-sentence summary.
Last year, 38 officers amassed 91 individual uses of force, including one pepper spray deployment. They pointed firearms at someone 54 times. All of these uses resulted in 43 total reviews, which the department has not released information for. The annual reports are designed to give an “overall picture,” and more information would not be of use to most students, Lloyd said.
“Each [incident] had a inquiry and investigation related to it,” Lloyd said. “It would take volumes of information that we would have to release — that no one would read other than a editor or someone like [that].”
The Diamondback sent a public records request for the 2013 internal affairs reports — including the initial complaint, final written disposition of each case and records that report when a use of force occurred.
The university denied each part of the request on March 4, 2015, stating these records fall under the exemption categories of personnel records, intra-agency memoranda and investigatory records, and therefore are exempt from public disclosure.
Sladden said this information is important to students and therefore should be presented in a more obvious and accessible manner.
“How many students realistically go to the [University Police website] and say, ‘Hey let me look at this annual report?'” Sladden said. “Ninety percent of students don’t even know that exists.”
Swanson added it is unreasonable to expect University Police to release extensive information every time a use of force incident occurs, but they should consider the impact on the campus community when debating whether or not to publicize it.
“It’s important for UMPD to be transparent — they should make a commitment to being more transparent and to releasing this stuff more often, especially when there’s any chance that people might be upset about it,” Swanson said.
“This makes me want to go to them and say, ‘I’m not sure what the issue is about making a commitment to being transparent about these things,'” she said.