UP chief to apologize in student stop

Scott Gordon

Chief Bruce Lewis of University Police is drafting a written apology to a Feinberg School of Medicine student for a computer error that contributed to his brief detention on Dec. 15. The student said UP officers stopped him without adequate suspicion, partly because he is black.

Officers detained the student with “reasonable suspicion” that he was trespassing or stealing, but also because they were unable to confirm he was a student using Ph, NU’s former online directory, Lewis said. The first-year Feinberg student, who did not want his name printed, told The Daily his first name is two words on his ID, but only one in the directory.

“To the extent we relied on a faulty system that contributed greatly to his arrest, I apologize for that,” Lewis told The Daily on Thursday.

The student, a resident of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, said he also wants UP to apologize for the arrest.

The new directory system that replaced Ph in February is the only database UP uses to confirm student and faculty identities, Lewis said.

“We are exploring ways to improve” the system, he said. At the time of the incident, NU Information Technology was gradually transferring its directory from Ph to the new directory.

At about 5 a.m. on Dec. 15, an officer on foot patrol saw the student exit the Tarry Research and Education Building, 300 E. Superior St., then return to the building and leave again carrying several bags and a laptop, Lewis said. The officer stopped the student and asked for his WildCARD to confirm he was a student.

Lewis said the student did not have his WildCARD and gave the officer a state identification card. A Ph search did not turn up the student’s name. A UP officer drove the student to the department’s Chicago station, 211 E. Superior St.

At the station the officers confirmed the student’s identity with his lab partner, whose telephone number they found in a binder in the student’s backpack. The student was released without charge about an hour and a half after the officer first stopped him, Lewis said.

On Jan. 7, the student filed a complaint with UP, saying there was no basis for the stop or the detainment, and that the officers did not apologize to him when it was over. He told The Daily that UP’s account of the situation is incomplete and incorrect.

“There’s many students who leave that building at five o’clock in the morning, and there was no difference in the way I left and the way any other student leaves,” he said. He added that he and two other students had been studying for a test scheduled for later that morning. “I didn’t run out the door. I didn’t try to hide my face. I even gave eye contact and acknowledgement to the officer.”

The student said the first time he was about to leave the building, he was carrying both his bags, but went back upstairs because he had left his gloves behind. A few minutes after he left, the officer he saw pull up beside him in a UP car questioned him and put him against a wall, he said.

An internal review at UP found the officers followed proper procedure, Lewis said.

Lewis said that recent thefts of computers from Feinberg buildings helped justify the officers’ suspicions that the student might have been trespassing or stealing computers. This is not the first stop UP officers have made in suspected thefts on the Chicago Campus, he added, but he could not say exactly how many thefts or investigative stops had occurred.

Wednesday night Lewis met with the Feinberg’s Student Senate. Students asked him about racial profiling at UP at this meeting, Lewis said.

“People perceive things, predicated upon their experience, and while I have an appreciation for their experience and perception, the investigation in this particular matter revealed that officers acted properly,” Lewis said, referring to a review by the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Disabilities Services division of NU’s Human Resources department that found race did not motivate the officers’ actions.

About 60 people attended the meeting of the 20-member senate, senate president Arjun Venkatesh said.

“It brought issues to light and helped UP understand the student perspective and students understand the UP perspective,” said Venkatesh, a first-year Feinberg student.

“We don’t have any specific plan, but that doesn’t mean (the matter) is closed,” he said, adding that the senate and the Student National Medical Association will continue to work with UP.

Although members of Feinberg’s chapter of the SNMA said they appreciated Lewis’s appearance at the senate, some still have doubts. The group represents minority medical students.

“There’s a very real disagreement between students and UP in the legitimacy of the stop and whether or not the issue of race was a factor,” said Aaron Krasner, a second-year Feinberg student who serves as his class’ president in the senate.

The Daily’s Amy Hamblin and Michelle Ma contributed to this report.

Reach Scott Gordon at [email protected]