The Daily Explains: University Police investigations of student infractions and criminal offenses


Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

University Police respond to reported student offenses on campus within its jurisdiction, while more serious crimes are investigated by external law enforcement.

Julian Andreone, Reporter

University Police has long been the subject of controversy surrounding officer conduct at Northwestern, especially in recent years. UP is responsible for investigating certain reports of student offenses and misconduct on campus with impartiality, but it works with external law enforcement agencies depending on incidents’ circumstances. 

The severity of offenses committed each year by members of the student body varies. University spokesperson Erin Karter said UP defers to the Evanston Police Department on severe crimes committed on University property.

“EPD maintains primary investigative responsibility for death investigations and child sexual (or) physical abuse investigations that occur on Northwestern University property,” Karter said in an email to The Daily. “This includes attempts related to these offenses.”

UP investigates incidents such as disorderly conduct and underage alcohol consumption on University grounds. The department reports these infractions to the Dean of Students’ Office of Community Standards for review. UP does not issue fines to students or other community members for any acts that would otherwise result in a fine from an external agency, like EPD. 

Law enforcement responses to reported incidents of sexual misconduct are more complicated because students can choose whether to contact the University, UP or EPD. Karter said the University encourages students reporting these incidents to use resources like the Dean of Students Office, faculty and staff and student groups. UP also partners with these organizations while investigating an incident to address the needs of affected community members. 

“(UP) investigates reported sexual misconduct allegations within (its) jurisdiction and refers reported sexual misconduct to the Office of Equity and Student Affairs for survivor support and outreach, including investigation,” Karter said. 

On-campus psychological resources include the Center for Awareness, Response and Education; Counseling and Psychological Services; Religious and Spiritual Life and the Faculty Wellness Program. These resources are available to all NU community members, although students have criticized CAPS for inadequate service and called on the University to reform it.

Bienen second-year graduate student Ryan Dearon said he does not have much experience with UP, having only been on campus for a year. However, he said he supports a student’s choice in any given incident to determine which University or external resources to contact for help. 

“It depends on the parties involved and if they want to have the Evanston Police Department (leading) the investigation,” Dearon said. “But generally speaking, I would just say the University (should handle student misconduct).”

Some students and groups have questioned UP’s efforts to address incidents and its ability to protect the community. NU Community Not Cops called for UP to be abolished in a monthlong slate of protests in October 2020, which former University President Morton Schapiro condemned.

In its June 2020 memo to top Northwestern administrative officials, NUCNC called on the university to reinvest in life-giving institutions and Black students and divest from institutions that harm the Black community. Among the group’s demands was a removal of “the university’s affiliation with the Center for Public Safety” and a reallocation of “funds or resources towards organizations that serve underrepresented students.”

McCormick junior Madeline Farr raised concerns about UP’s capability to effectively resolve incidents of student misconduct. She said police involvement should depend on the circumstances of any given offense.

“The student body is highly biased against the NUPD, and I agree with that for the most part,” Farr said. “Anything I have heard that has to do with NUPD has been about the negative conduct of the officers themselves.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JulianAndreone

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