Q&A: University of Chicago Police Department’s Marlon Lynch and Fountain Walker

The University of Chicago Police Department is dedicated to promoting a safe and secure environment for those who live, learn and work on the University of Chicago campus and in neighboring communities.

Marlon Lynch, associate vice president for Safety, Security and Civic Affairs, has led safety efforts since joining the University in 2009, and recently accepted a new position as New York University’s vice president for global campus safety. Lynch and and Fountain Walker, chief of police for the University of Chicago Police Department, recently sat down with UChicago News to give an overview of UCPD processes and procedures as well as the function of UCPD on campus and their role in the community as a supporting agency to the Chicago Police Department—the primary law enforcement agency and authority off campus.

Campus safety is a priority for every university. What are some of the efforts underway to improve safety here at UChicago?

Lynch: The overall strategy for safety is to incorporate layers of police and security. From security officers standing on just about every corner on campus in addition to the UCPD, combined with the access control protecting the interiors and security cameras, we have very good security coverage on campus. Recently, President Zimmer announced the University is taking additional steps in collaboration with the city of Chicago, elected officials and surrounding communities to help combat violence in our neighborhoods. While we’re never satisfied, the Hyde Park-South Kenwood area is one of the safer neighborhoods in Chicago; we’re in the bottom third in the rate of violent crimes.

There have been other recent initiatives, specifically on campus, that have been put in place during the past five years involving improvements in technology. For instance, when I started at UChicago less than 20 percent of campus buildings had electronic access. We’re now at about 90 to 95 percent coverage with electronic access and are working toward increased security improvements for additional coverage.

The UCPD plays an important role not just on campus, but also in support of the Chicago Police Department in the extended patrol area off campus. How is UCPD approaching its role?

Lynch: In the last year we significantly increased our patrols and visibility on campus and in targeted areas within the extended patrol area in support of the CPD. We have seen some positive trends that indicate our increased patrols are having an effect. However, we are still concerned about the level of certain crimes, such as robberies. The campus and community residents we speak with are concerned about that. We always want to be responsive to the safety concerns that residents share with us.

Walker: The community feedback we’ve received is one of the reasons why we’ve increased our patrols in certain areas, including Kenwood and Hyde Park. National data show that there is a direct correlation between increased police presence and actions, such as traffic stops, and lower crime.

What are you doing to get feedback from the community?

Walker: Community outreach is an everyday priority. We’ve had about 60 meetings with community groups in the last year. We are also going out and talking to community members—not just about their expectations of what they would like to see, but also about the opportunities we have to jointly address concerns and how we can bring CPD and other entities into the group to be a part of the process. One initiative of particular importance is the Community Advisory Committee for UCPD. This initiative is the result of our department working with the Office of Civic Engagement and the aldermanic offices in our jurisdiction. And we are proud of the work we’re doing. For example, this summer UCPD is partnering with Alderman Sophia King and Alderman Pat Dowell, along with CPD, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools to launch a Safe Summer Initiative to provide wraparound services in hot spots in those wards to create safe passages for our youth over the summer. The expectations that people have for police can change a lot over time, and we’re listening to what community members tell us.

The relationship between the UCPD and Chicago Police Department is fairly unique for a university police department. If there’s an incident in Hyde Park, what happens? Who goes to the scene?

Lynch: It depends on who you call. If you dial 911, whether you’re on campus or in the extended patrol area, that call is going to go to the Office of Emergency Management Communications for the city of Chicago. A CPD unit will be dispatched, but it’s not uncommon for OEMC to also contact the UCPD for assistance.

But if you are on campus, and you dial 123 from a campus line, or you call our main line at 773-702-8181 from the extended patrol area, you will be connected to the UCPD.

Community outreach is an everyday priority. We’ve had about 60 meetings with community groups in the last year. We are also going out and talking to community members—not just about their expectations of what they would like to see, but also about the opportunities we have to jointly address concerns and how we can bring CPD and other entities into the group to be a part of the process.Fountain Walker

Walker: I cannot emphasize enough that CPD is the primary law enforcement agency in the community. If there is a robbery, which is probably the most frequent type of call, and UCPD shows up first, we will identify the complainant and get all the relevant information. We will then broadcast the suspect information to other UCPD units. If there is an apprehension, our officers have the authority to make the arrest, detain the suspect and turn them over to CPD when they arrive. Once CPD arrives, it’s their scene. It’s their incident when it occurs off campus. And as the primary agency, CPD will make the official report. Our relationship with the CPD is highly collaborative.

Federal law requires the University to inform the campus community of crimes considered to be a threat to students and employees. Can you talk about the notification process and who gets notified?

Lynch: First, I would like to note that there is a difference between timely security alerts and emergency notifications also known as cAlerts. Timely security alerts are sent to notify the UChicago community about crimes that occur on campus and related properties within UCPD’s jurisdiction that represent a continuing threat to the campus community. But cAlerts are different. A cAlert is sent to the campus or a segment of the campus when there is an emergency situation, and we want people to take immediate action. Examples of emergency situations would include dangerous weather conditions and threats to campus. cAlerts are restricted to members of the campus community.

Walker: While members of the broader community can sign up for timely security alerts, it’s imperative that they also use the resources available to them—such as the Chicago Police Department, CAPS meetings and their alderman’s office—to stay abreast of safety trends in their area. The Chicago Police Department provides official up-to-the-minute neighborhood information via Nixle. People interested in receiving official CPD notifications can sign up online.

Can you talk about the guidelines for the security alerts and how they were established?

Lynch: The timely security alert policy is part of the federal legislative requirement that each institution has to provide a timely warning to its university community of certain crimes that occur within the campus boundaries that pose an ongoing threat to the safety of the campus community. Those crimes are listed within the policy. Although the federal legislation does not require the University to issues timely security alerts when crimes occur off campus, the University nevertheless does sometimes issue alerts for off-campus crimes when the determination is made that the crimes represent an ongoing threat. The decision as to whether to issue an alert is made on a case-by-case basis. For example, alerts may not be sent if there are factors that reduce the level of threat to the community, such as an arrest, or if there is a risk of compromising law enforcement efforts or efforts to assist a victim.

Walker: It’s also important to note that we have a daily crime log, which is available online as well as in hard copy. All incidents that UCPD responds to are listed there. Even if an alert is not issued because it didn’t meet the criteria, it’s still listed on the log, so the public is informed that the incident occurred.

There have been some crimes reported in the press that did not receive a security alert, why is that?

Lynch: In addition to the criteria we previously mentioned as to why some incidents may not warrant an alert, it’s important to note that, not everyone calls UCPD; some people call CPD. Therefore, there are incidents where UCPD is not even aware that the crime occurred. It may not have been reported to us, which is why we would encourage community members who have an interest to take advantage of the resources available from CPD as their primary agency and their local elected officials.

In the past, some community members have expressed concern over the amount of transparency from the UCPD and the ways in which police officers interact with the community. Can you talk about what you have done to address this?

Lynch: Regarding increasing transparency, we’ve done a lot. To start, our website has much more detailed information on traffic and field stops. In the past, information on traffic stops was reported and posted on the Illinois Department of Transportation website in the aggregate, which was hard to navigate. Now our data are in a user-friendly format, with information about each individual stop, including location, race, gender, reason for the stop, the disposition, whether there was a search conducted and the cause. We’re also providing general information regarding the UCPD—everything from how the police department receives its authority to training requirements. We are releasing arrest records upon request. And now, the UCPD’s general orders are available for review, in person, by appointment. The general orders are available with the exception of those that would have a potential impact on public safety or an investigation, which is the same exception that municipalities make with their general orders.

Walker: Giving all of this information is extremely important for the public to understand what happened in each case and why. There was an impression that UCPD officers were initiating the vast majority of the stops that occurred on the street. However, the data show that the majority of these stops are in response to calls from the community. These calls range from someone seeing a pedestrian pulling door handles on cars, to seeing an alleged drug sale, to a report of loud music, etc. Officer-initiated stops occur from witnessing behavior that raises reasonable suspicion and/or observing a direct violation that poses a safety risk. Although some people were worried that we were disproportionally stopping African Americans, that is not the case. The numbers are shaped by the racial distribution of the mid-South Side.

Lynch: Many people believe we only serve Hyde Park, which is more diverse, but in fact we serve a number of neighborhoods on the mid-South Side, and in many of those neighborhoods, the composition is actually 75 to 80 percent African American. It’s also important to note that the area around the University is a central hub for the entire South Side in terms of retail, health care, etc., so a lot of people pass through our extended patrol area, many who don’t reside here.

How do you respond to people who are concerned about racial profiling?

Lynch: We train our officers extensively to ensure that it does not take place. I’m an African American male with two young sons, and we live on the South Side of Chicago. This is a personal priority for us.

Walker: One reason we care so much is the experiences we’ve had. When I was a kid, my father was beaten by police. So nothing is more important to me than making sure our officers act in a professional, unbiased way.

I’m an African American male with two young sons, and we live on the South Side of Chicago. This is a personal priority for us.Marlon Lynch

Lynch: We want to address the real safety concerns of our community and make sure that’s what is driving our patrol activities. The UCPD is one of the most diverse, well-educated, professional forces that I’ve been associated with. And our force is reflective of the communities we serve: 58 percent of our officers are African American, 28 percent are Caucasian, 13 percent are Hispanic and 1 percent are Asian, and a four-year college degree was established as a job requirement for newly hired police officers about four years ago. They all care about this community very much.

Walker: And also, we have a large community that wants us to be out there. We hear from community members all the time that they want us around. All of the initiatives we mentioned earlier are result of conversations with the community. When we instituted our changes last year, there was not another police department, municipal or private, that had moved to release field interview data in this manner. We’ve even had a lot of conversations with other police departments who are asking us why are we releasing so much information, but we want to be accountable to the community we serve.

How can the UChicago community help with your efforts?

Walker: Talk with us. Come and meet with our community relations units, get involved with the crime prevention presentations and stay engaged with us.

Lynch: We offer the UChicago community training in everything from emergency preparedness and planning to crime prevention. We are here to serve this community, and we want our faculty, students and staff to utilize those resources. Regarding the surrounding communities, we generally work with the Chicago Police Department through their CAPS initiative and the beat meetings to stay connected.

Walker: Don’t be afraid to reach out to us. Those blue light call boxes are not just for emergencies. We’ve had people hit that button and say “I’m lost” or “I need some assistance, can you send someone to help me?” When those phones are activated, the dispatch can see exactly where you’re located. There are about 380 total emergency phones. There is no penalty for using the phones. None. If you need help, push the button. We’ll be there.

If someone has a complaint against UCPD, what should they do?

Lynch: Communication is key. Oftentimes, we hear of complaints through others or in the press, but that complaint was never brought to our attention. If we don’t know about it, we can’t address it. If the complaint involves a UCPD officer, there is a complaint form online that we encourage people to use. Also, there is always a supervisor on duty available to help address problems. If they’re not comfortable speaking to a member of the police department, they can go to the Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Civic Engagement, or Campus and Student Life to initiate the complaint. All complaints are reviewed by the University’s Independent Review Committee, which includes no members of the UCPD.

Is there anything else that you feel is important to share?

Lynch: I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep up conversations about policing and safety. I think that most people would say that when there have been conversations about methods of policing or other issues, they’ve been able to see a positive change. Ultimately, we all have the same goal—the safety of the members of this community.

Walker: Give us an opportunity. We are here to serve you. We’re available, we’re here and we’re listening.