Students should reject NYPD on campus

By William Keve

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

It has been 16 months since Daniel Pantaleo of the New York Police Department choked Eric Garner to death. The department’s internal investigation has produced no conclusion, so far as I can tell. Today, the NYPD has officers patrolling Pantaleo’s house for his own protection, yet he is still employed for the department. It doesn’t matter that the medical examiner in the case ruled Eric Garner’s cause of death as asphyxiation as the result of a choke hold. It doesn’t matter that the city of New York paid Eric Garner’s family 5.9 million dollars for Garner’s wrongful death. It doesn’t matter that Pantaleo had two separate, unresolved allegations of misconduct. It doesn’t matter that Pantaleo’s actions are clearly videotaped and easily available on the internet. Apparently, the NYPD still needs more time to fire or acquit their officer.

Are these the kind of consequences you would want if, God forbid, a UMass student were to die at the hands of a member of the UMPD?

Pardon me, then, if I don’t respect Joseph R. Riley’s promise to students of this university that he intends to “run a transparent department.” No matter what your opinion of the UMPD, I don’t think transparency comes to mind as a glaring problem of theirs. It does seem to be one of the many total institutional failures of the NYPD, the organization from which our transparent savior is coming from. Riley’s other key issue during his interviews? Community relations. That’s hard to take seriously considering the NYPD’s reputation in its own community.

Last year, the UMPD were generally commended for their restraint at large events on-campus. The Patriots winning the Super Bowl certainly comes to mind as one of the only times I’ve ever seen a show-of-force not end badly for citizens.

Let’s contrast this with the crowd control record of the NYPD. When a similarly challenging situation arose, namely the Occupy Wall Street Protests in Zuccotti Park in 2011, police misconduct and unnecessary violence was rampant. A collaborative study from multiple area law schools produced a scathing 130 page report of NYPD conduct ranging from physical violence to intimidation techniques to illegitimate arrests to the destruction and theft of property on the part of police officers.

Riley’s press comments during the interview process came off as out of touch. Citing his previous experience, he compared UMass, a public institution nearing 30,000 students, to Columbia University, an urban ivy with a population of less than 5,000. Columbia does not even have a police department. Riley is trying to walk away from a top-tier position in the largest metro police department in the United States to head a university police force, and the two jobs are worlds apart. The UMPD’s priority is safety for its students, just like a regular police department. The major difference is that a university police department is supposed to prioritize well-being over justice. This is why we have policies like Minutes Matter and confidential Title IX reporting. Riley is being asked to adjust from a platform that emphasizes justice to the point of racial discrimination and violence to a platform that never condones those actions until the very last resort. He’s going from the hardest policing in the world to some of the softest. Hiring him seems to me like choosing a mixed-martial-arts fighter to run a preschool.

There is more to doing the job of police chief than handling high-profile cases, but I shudder to think how an NYPD officer might have handled the most important student-police interactions of 2014 and 2015 like Blarney Blowout, the Super Bowl, October 2014’s prominent racist vandalism and the fallout after the confidential informant controversy.

I also think it’s important to clarify that this one applicant is not necessarily emblematic of the irreconcilable differences between the crippling dysfunction of the NYPD and the relatively popular UMPD. I am not so much concerned about Joseph Riley as I am his institution. That’s why student protests over the news of his hiring were so aptly done. The chalk messages don’t indict Riley by name. Instead, they decry his employer.

Unfortunately, student input will not realistically sway the application process, even though it should. The fact that a former NYPD officer is even being considered is proof that UMass is acting without consideration for the well-being of students. The only thing that we can do is speak out against the hiring of Joseph Riley if and when it happens. UMass cannot be allowed to become a subject of the New York police state without allowing students to veto a change that affects them more than anyone else.

William Keve is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]