Police react to decisions on racial descriptions

Cassie Buchman, City Editor

The University of Minnesota recently stopped including racial descriptions of suspects in email police reports that are shared with its campus unless the description of a suspect is enough to identify the person.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is a federal law requiring colleges and universities to disclose warnings and information about safety threats on campus.

In 1992, the law was amended to protect victims of campus sexual assault more rights, and then in 1998 it expanded the reporting requirements.

Critics of the use of racial descriptors in crime alerts say they have made their campus unwelcoming and hostile for people of color.

Eric Kaler, the president of the University of Minnesota, said the use of a person’s race in the reports “may unintentionally reinforce stereotypes of black men and other people of color, as criminals and threats,” according to The Associated Press.

Unless there is “sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group” officials will not provide such descriptions of suspects.

Dave Chambers, the deputy chief of police for the Charleston Police Department, said Charleston would most likely not implement a policy like this.

He said descriptions of physical characteristics were needed in order to identify those who have committed a crime.

“Do I think it should be used in running someone down? No,” Chambers said.

Adam Due, the police chief of the University Police Department, said not identifying someone by their race would be like saying they were not going to use other identifiers.

“It would be like saying we’re not going to say the gender of someone,” he said. “If we can use it to identify someone, it would be useful.”

If race has no bearing on the case, the university police will exclude it.

“If there’s no reason, we will not use it,” Due said.

However, if it would help to protect the safety of students on campus and the surrounding area, they would use it.

“If we can use it to apprehend the suspect, we should do it,” he said.

Due said Eastern had some people concerned about the same thing a couple years ago.

“People were asking why is race listed in the intelligence report or press release,” he said.

Chambers said race should not matter in the case of a crime being committed.

“There are bad people across the board in terms of if we have a crime afoot,” Chambers said. “What an individual is doing has no reflection on groups as a whole. A bad guy could be a white guy, a black guy or an Indian guy.”

Chambers said police need to be looking at people in terms of personal accountability.

“The way God made us has no bearing on whether someone commits a crime or not,” he said. “Accountability for the most part, you decide yourself.”

He said the real issue is dangerous and antisocial behavior.

“I don’t buy into the concept of hiding behind things that aren’t real issues,” Chambers said. “Differences are not something to be scared of, and they’re not an indication of behavior, good or bad.”

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]