Students call for DPS review, transparency at public safety forum

Students call for DPS review at public safety forum

The discussion follows a Feb. 9 off-campus assault students SA have described as racially motivated
Published: February 19, 2019 | Updated: April 15th, 2019 at 10:40 am
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DPS Chief Bobby Maldonado, Dean of Students Rob Hradsky and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Keith Alford responded to students' questions and concerns at Monday's forum.

Update: In an email send out on Sunday, April 14, DPS informed the campus community that a 15-year-old female has been arrested charged with two counts of assault in the second degree and one count of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.

Syracuse University students and staff told Department of Public Safety Chief Bobby Maldonado that they wanted a full review of the department, similar to that conducted on Greek life last year, at the Student Association’s “This is Our Syracuse” forum on Monday night.

“I’d have no problem with a review of the department,” Maldonado answered.

The forum was hosted in response to an assault of three students of color following a party on Ackerman Avenue in the early morning of Feb. 9. Despite a student statement saying the attackers used racial slurs, the Syracuse Police Department said on the following Tuesday that it did not believe the attack was “racially motivated.” 

SA President Ghufran Salih initially scheduled the forum at Hendricks Chapel, but it was rescheduled after problems with the chapel’s smoke detectors, Salih said in an email to the student body. In addition to Maldonado, Dean of Students Robert Hradsky and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Keith Alford were part of the three-person panel answering student questions. Chancellor Kent Syverud was present but did not speak.

Two of the students involved in the initial attack, Jair Walker and Caleb Obiagwu, told the audience about the attack to open the forum.

“Sometimes it’s hard to feel safe,” said Obiagwu, who is an international student.

After hearing their account, Salih took to the podium to thank the audience. She said that the turnout was proof of “tangible action” to improve the lives of affected students.

“There are so many students, people of color like myself who live off-campus, that are afraid to walk outside and throw out their trash,” said Salih, who lives only a few streets away from where the attack took place.

Student-submitted questions were read out by Student Association officers for Maldonado, Alford and Hradsky to answer, with Maldonado taking the brunt of the questioning. The first question, from senior David Fox, asked why the campus made an effort to hide racial motivation in the attack.

Maldonado answered by saying that it would be “unprofessional” for him to comment on the investigation. Hradsky and Alford added that it was clear “racially motivated” language was used during the attack.

Junior Stacy Omosa asked whether the lack of transparency in the investigation was related to the campus’s image and admissions process.

“Unequivocally, no,” Hradsky said. “We’ve had no conversations about the campus image in relation to this assault or other questions of campus safety.”

After the student-submitted questions concluded, the floor opened to audience questions. Many students voiced concerns over DPS disproportionately targeting parties hosted by people of color, and asked why DPS is able to shut down parties but not help students in trouble.

Maldonado said that he “has not found any information” that supports that parties frequented by people of color were targeted by DPS and added that parties hosted by “non-people of color” were actually more commonly reported for noise violations.

Other students wanted to know what more DPS could do in the off-campus areas. According to Maldonado, the department’s jurisdiction is limited in off-campus neighborhoods, but they do currently staff 36 officers on call for students to contact if they feel unsafe.

Maldonado also mentioned Syracuse Police Department’s cameras operating in off-campus neighborhood, but that triggered more student backlash. The cameras are the brainchild of alumnus Alexander Lynch, who graduated in 2016 and funded the cameras as part of his capstone project.

“Why are cameras the priority of the students and not DPS?” asked an audience member.

Junior Tyler Smith, one of the residents of the Ackerman house where the assault took place, said that she was “disappointed” that no one from the Syracuse Police Department was at the forum. Hradsky said that the university was working with SPD Chief Kenton Buckner to bring him to campus so students could talk to him.

Professors and staff members also criticized DPS’s response to the Ackerman assault and its policies in general. Arts and Sciences professor Biko Mandela Gray, who teaches a course on African-American religion, said that by making students feel unsafe, it places more burden on the professors who teach them.

“Chief Maldonado offered me last year to come down and train your officers,” Gray said. “Well, I’m taking you up on that offer, Chief.”

Marq Houston, a residence hall advisor, echoed Gray’s sentiment and asked why it was hard for students to educate their peers, saying that students of color often find the burden on them to explain their worries to non-students of color.

“I’ve gotten texts from students who are in this room right now, because they’re not comfortable talking with you because they think you’re being too political,” Houston said.

Hradsky and Alford responded to Houston directly, saying that different “campus entities” were consulted in improving the university’s diversity protocols but acknowledging that more transparency was needed. Alford also said that students in the audience not speaking up “concerns him” and suggested Twitter or another channel for students to voice their problems.

“I want to know what those questions are,” Alford said. “We want to be able to respond in a detailed way.”

The forum officially ended at 8:30 p.m., but Maldonado, Hradsky and Alford stayed to answer further student questions. Student Association Vice President Kyle Rosenblum directed students with further questions to email the Student Association directly at studentassociation@syr.edu.

Avatar for Jishnu Nair

is a lead news producer at The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.