Ill. bill to increase transparency at private university police departments has stalled

ILLINOIS — A bill that would have made Illinois private universities’ police departments’ day-to-day actions more transparent to the public has stalled in the state Senate after passing in the House.

On April 24, House Bill 3932 had passed the state House unanimously, with 108 representatives voting in favor of the proposed legislation. The bill would have required private campus police departments to publicly disclose information that other law enforcement agencies are required to provide under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. 

Private universities are still required to comply with the federal Clery Act, which requires universities to disclose crime statistics in an annual campus security report, issue timely warning notices of crimes and maintain a daily crime log.

The University of Chicago’s police department was particularly in the spotlight during the bill’s debate, as the private university’s police department has been accused of racial profiling and has been criticized over a police officer’s infiltration of an on-campus protest in 2013.

But on April 13, the University of Chicago announced that it would share more information from the campus police department to the public. The expansion, which took effect in June, directs the police department to put online details about all traffic stops and field contacts performed.

The daily updates have information on the time, date, location, reason for traffic stop, disposition, race and gender of the person stopped and information about whether a search was conducted. The police department will also provide details from records of arrests made, upon request, and the website will be easier to access available information — including background information about how the department works.

“The bill stalled because proponents thought the university was making some progress,” said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Rep. Barbara Currie, Illinois’ House Majority Leader who introduced the legislation. “Private universities beyond the University of Chicago were very concerned about opening this door as it relates to freedom of information.”

The last action on the bill happened on May 22, when the Senate established a third reading deadline of May 31. That reading never happened, and the Senate adjourned on the 31st.

“Rep. Currie did believe that the attention brought to the University of Chicago situation produced some positive actions from the university,” Brown said. Currie, a Democrat, represents a district near the University of Chicago.

A University of Chicago spokeswoman, Marielle Sainvilus, said in an email that the university has no comment on the bill.

“The university is committed to making information about UCPD activities available to the public and has taken significant steps to enhance transparency,” she said. “For example, updates to the Safety and Security website offer a substantial amount of data that go beyond the requirements of Illinois law for police forces at private institutions.”

The campus police department will “continue to work with community members and elected officials to explore additional engagement opportunities on safety issues,” she said.

Still, advocates for stronger transparency among private universities’ police departments are disappointed to see the bill die.

“There’s still work to be done,” Tyler Kissinger, president of the student body at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. “Students should have direct appointment powers to the Independent Review Committee, and HB 3932 still remains the best way to establish public disclosure regulations as a legal requirement and not a matter of institutional policy.”

The university’s Independent Review Committee is charged with examining complaints against the campus police department. The committee consists of three students, as well as faculty, staff and community members.

In Texas, a similar bill to require private university police departments to release certain records to the public overwhelmingly passed the state legislature and was signed into law in June. 

ESPN also filed suit against the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in January to access law enforcement records pertaining to its student athletes, but the judge ruled in April that the campus police department does not have to give ESPN access to the records since it is not a public agency.

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