Editorial: UP must adopt fair, consistent police detail policy

It’s no secret that Northwestern’s student groups face a series of administrative hurdles in organizing campus events. What is a secret — discussed only behind the closed doors of student group offices — is that some groups seem to face more hassles than others, particularly when dealing with University Police.

Right now, UP has the right to require police detail for any on-campus event at the steep price of $50 per officer per hour. Usually, the venue hosting the event, such as Norris University Center, will contact UP to determine whether police presence is appropriate. But throughout the whole process there is no campuswide system for deciding whether police need to attend.

Unfortunately, the system can produce wide disparities in the police treatment of very similar events, in some cases even resulting in inadvertent racism. On a given Saturday night, any number of North Campus fraternities might host large, open parties with masses of rowdy students. A few hundred yards south, a historically-black fraternity might host a more intimate, non-alcoholic party. But the black fraternity will end up paying through the nose for police detail, while predominantly white fraternities do what they please.

In some cases, UP’s decisions have had consequences far greater than the $50 hourly rate officers demand. When A&O Productions planned a Snoop Dogg concert, for example, the police essentially nixed the whole event: At the last minute, UP decided an artist like Snoop Dogg needed extensive police coverage, which it was unwilling to provide. But as some students pointed out at the time, UP has allowed concerts of the same size with white performers such as Ben Folds to go on with more limited police supervision.

Of course, we consider it unlikely that UP actually is motivated by racial animus. But by making decisions with serious consequences so arbitrarily and without justifying them publicly, the department opens itself up to criticism. Furthermore, $50 per man-hour is more than a little steep and can eat up a big chunk of smaller groups’ budgets. Police detail costs student groups as much as $60,000 per year, by some estimates.

Last night the Associated Student Government passed a bill that calls on UP “to develop a systematic contracting and billing process for student groups” and to give those groups a 10 percent discount when they request police detail 30 days in advance. The bill, proposed by Executive Vice President Nicole Mash, rightly recognizes that police services need to be affordable and that there should be a clear system for determining when those services are required.

We hope that in working with ASG, UP will publish specific guidelines. It is understandable that, to some extent, these decisions will be left to the discretion of UP and campus venues. But insofar as possible, UP should make it clear why it requires police presence when it does.

In the same vein, UP should make sure that the price of its services never exceeds the cost. If anything, the administration should subsidize campus programming, which enriches student life and builds a stronger sense of community. By no means should UP profit from student group police detail; 100 percent of the money student groups pay should go to the police who attend their events.

Above all, we hope police will adopt a standard policy promptly. Any discrimination, even if unintentional, is offensive to the NU community.