Campus police are under renewed scrutiny after officer Ray Tensing of the University of Cincinnati Police Department killed motorist, Samuel DuBose, during a traffic stop on a month ago.
The high-profile case, which garnered national attention, brought to the forefront issues like police body cameras, campus police jurisdiction and an individual’s rights when dealing with the police during a traffic stop.
Miami University has its own police department with 24 sworn police officers, under the Ohio Revised Code for state university law enforcement officers, meaning they go through the same basic peace officer training as any other police agency in Ohio.
Last April, after nearly two years of research, Miami University Chief of Police John McCandless instituted a policy of body-worn cameras for the officers.
“I think that they come in a time where people want transparency, and the cameras help keep everyone on their best behavior — not only citizens, but police offices, as well,” McCandless said, in a previous Student report.
The body camera worn by officer Ray Tensing was instrumental in Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters charging the officer with murder. In the graphic video, after Tensing stops DuBose for a missing front license plate, the officer can be seen shooting DuBose in the head, killing him.
Deters, in a July 29 press conference announcing the charge, said the University of Cincinnati should “get out of the law enforcement business.”
“Being a police officer shouldn’t be the role of this university,” Deters said.
Prior to releasing the video, Deters argued that the police body camera was not a public record. The Cincinnati Enquirer and other local media sued the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office for the release of the video and the case will be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.
At Miami, it is possible to file a records request to see an MUPD officer’s body camera. The only stipulations, according to department records clerk Melissa Kennel, is if an uncharged suspect is in the video, then they can redact that part of it or if the case in question is an ongoing investigation.
So far, they’ve only had to make out requests to attorneys, but to turn the police body camera into a record — a DVD — costs the requester $1.
To make a record request, go to the police department’s site at miamioh.edu/police and find the necessary form under the Services tab. Under Ohio Public Records law, the requester does not need to fill out their name.
Lieutenant Jim Bechtolt of MUPD oversees the body cameras. Body cameras, he said, are another tool that enhances and strengthens the relationship between MUPD and students.
“It’s definitely geared toward that relationship factor — strengthening our transparency,” Bechtolt said.
Aside from redacting an uncharged suspect’s image from the cameras, there’s no editing of the tapes, Bechtolt added.
So far, Betchtolt has not fielded any complaints from his officers or citizens about the use of the body cameras.
“It benefits officers to have documents … to have records,” Bechtolt said.
Another problem was that DuBose was killed during a patrol of off-campus streets. Days after the shooting, the city of Cincinnati and UC ended their agreement: UCPD is no longer allowed to make traffic stops in off-campus areas.
Captain Benjamin Spilman of MUPD said their primary jurisdiction is Miami’s property. However, MUPD does have a working relationship with the Oxford Police Department (OPD), where overlap may occur.
This agreement is part of the broader Butler County Intra-County Mutual Police Aid Agreement. Under which OPD “retains primary responsibility for enforcement on City of Oxford streets,” and MUPD likewise, retains primary responsibility on Miami University streets and property.
The agreement was effective July 2012 and expired at the end of June of this year. On Aug. 17, an extension of that agreement was signed, lasting until the end of October.
In other words, Spilman said, criminals don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries. Both police agencies work together on investigations, if necessary, and coordinate resources when responding to emergency situations.
“We owe each other the courtesy of knowing when we’re in each other’s property,” Spilman said. “When it comes to our officers off-campus, we need to fulfill the needs of the university.”
The DuBose traffic stop escalated after officer Tensing asked DuBose to step out of his vehicle, raising questions about what an individual’s rights are in that situation.
According to Spilman, if an MUPD officer asks the driver to exit the vehicle, like anywhere else in the country, the driver must comply.
In the 1977 Supreme Court case, Pennsylvania v. Mimms, the Court set the precedent for complying in this regard. Thereafter, the driver does not have to consent to a search of the vehicle or their person, unless the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is armed and/or dangerous.
Likewise, students living in dorms on campus also have the same rights as anyone off-campus, i.e., an officer wanting to come into a dorm room must have a search warrant.
“Look at it like an apartment building,” Spilman said.
With policing of all kinds receiving extra attention due to a spate of high-profile cases, Spilman said optics are a problem a lot of the time. Police agencies that outfit themselves with military-grade equipment and gear, like grenade-launchers and tanks.
The Ohio State University Police Department has a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle, for instance.
Spilman said for MUPD, things like foot patrols, where officers walk through the buildings and talk to people is about outreach since Miami is a learning center, after all. He said he wants students to be able to communicate with the officers.
“We’re approachable enough to walk up and ask a question,” Spilman said.