The University of Cincinnati Police Department has resumed patrols in neighborhoods surrounding the school’s campus, one month after a department officer shot and killed an unarmed motorist.
On June 19, then-Officer Ray Tensing fatally shot Samuel DuBose, 43, during an off-campus traffic stop. Tensing has since been charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter and fired from his position with the department. Following the shooting, University President Santa Ono voluntarily suspended off-campus patrols while promising a thorough review of the incident and an in-depth examination of department.
The decision to resume patrols coincides with the start of the fall semester – timing both the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Police Department said is not coincidental.
“It might be too early. Candidly, it might be,” said Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell. “But we have a responsibility to the parents of those 44,000 young people getting an education at UC. We have a responsibility to the UC community to make things as safe as possible.”
UCPD officers are operating under revised guidelines that emphasize visibility in the community over traffic enforcement. For example, they will refrain from proactive traffic or pedestrian stops. They will also soon be operating under an early warning system at the university, which will provide real-time data on officers to identify potential red flags like skewed demographic breakdowns in the issuance of citations.
For critics of the resumed patrols however, timing is a key issue. The University of Cincinnati is in the early stages of their in-depth examination and an internal review of the shooting is not yet complete. Potential reforms to training or policy have yet to take place.
“I think they’re rushing to get their police officers back on the street so they can say students are safe when the problem is the community around the university seemingly is not safe,” says attorney Mark O’Mara, who represents members of the DuBose family. “UCPD has a long way to go to prove themselves to the community.”
University officials say efforts by campus police have improved safety for both students and area residents. Statistics released by the school as part of a crime report show a 19.1% drop in violent robberies in communities bordering the campus from 2013 to 2014.
However, other statistics released by the University of Cincinnati raise troubling questions about race and policing. So far this year, 69.3% of citations written by UCPD have been to African-Americans while 23% were issued to Caucasians. UCPD’s chief of police described the discrepancy as “horrifying” during a recent press conference.
University leadership created several new roles in the aftermath of the shooting to spearhead reform and mend community relations. Dr. Robin Engel, Vice President of Safety and Reform, is tasked with conducting a data-driven assessment of the department.
“The thing about numbers and statistics is that they don’t show motivation and they don’t show context. They can be used as a flag to say ‘We need a deeper look. We need to understand the context,’” she says. “To jump right in and say ‘This is bias,’ I think would be inappropriate. To say that it’s not bias and take that off the table, I also think would be inappropriate.”
Detailed information about UCPD’s future direction can’t come soon enough for some activists, who disagree with the decision to resume off-campus police patrols without additional clarification on what has changed since DuBose’s death. Iris Roley, a longtime community activist and police reformist with the Cincinnati Black United Front, was among the hundreds who rallied for justice following the shooting.
“I think what they are doing is pushing the envelope, pushing the community to erupt because they are not communicating effectively and efficiently as to how UCPD will patrol the streets of Cincinnati,” she said.