EDITORIAL | UCCS needs alternatives to campus police for sensitive calls

It would be hard to argue against the idea that police have received more criticism and attention in the past few years than ever before — not only for transparency’s sake but to hold each officer accountable given their power and responsibility.

At UCCS, the campus police are the central authoritative entity for responding to emergencies, preventing crime and enforcing campus rules. Their presence, while essential in some cases, has become so normalized that they are expected to oversee areas where alternative prevention services might be safer and more effective.

When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail. Not every situation requires an armed response, and the presence of campus police may exacerbate already delicate situations, such as calls involving sexual assault, mental illness or substance abuse.

An October article from The Gazette reported that Brian Halik, a former UCCS student, may file a lawsuit alleging insensitive police intervention. In September 2019, two UCCS police officers, one of whom still works for campus police, responded to an on-campus event after a bystander reported seeing an unleashed, non-aggressive German shepherd.

The dog was a service animal belonging to Halik, who is a disabled veteran. In the lawsuit, Halik alleges that the officers detained him unconstitutionally when they handcuffed him outside the event in front of “countless” people and placed him in their vehicle because he wouldn’t show ID.

While detained in handcuffs, Halik said he was told by officers that he had broken the UCCS code of conduct and was refused a more private interrogation. Halik said he was also separated from his service dog while being detained, which indicates an unethical, insensitive intervention by campus police officers in recent past.

After 25 minutes of questioning, the officers released Halik. After the incident, he dropped out of classes and has yet to continue his education.

Situations like this make you question why these officers treated the student this way and why these events transpired when the call was just for an unleashed dog. Was it necessary for the police to respond to this, or could there be another response force better trained to handle situations like this?

While campus police are a necessity on college campuses for emergency response, the type of violence and aggression that they perpetuate is unignorable.

What other options do we have?

In an online statement regarding violence toward the LGBTQ+ community, campus police acknowledge that “in addition to considering the needs of LGBTQ people in programs designed to improve the health of entire communities, there is also a need for culturally competent intervention and prevention services that are specific to this population.”

While this acknowledgement is pivotal to the continued protection of at-risk students and communities here on campus, there is little being done to effectively implement “culturally competent intervention and prevention services” when these kinds of incidents arise.

One resource available to UCCS students who are concerned about or directly affected by issues of sexual harassment, discrimination or violence on campus is EthicsPoint.

Using EthicsPoint, students can report their concerns, “[which] are independently reviewed by system administrators in the university’s Internal Audit department and … forwarded to the appropriate university official(s) for investigation and action.”

However, in light of the substantial damage an armed campus police force can have on students experiencing sensitive emergencies, a separate response and intervention team is needed to make this campus a safer place, especially for at-risk students and communities.

The Denver STAR program is an example of an alternative response force that solely deals with low-risk calls regarding these sensitive cases.

These teams consist of a Denver health paramedic or emergency medical technician and a behavioral health specialist. The units are dispatched through 911 just like every other emergency service and can call for backup if the situation progresses beyond their scope.

Not only do these kinds of alternatives take responsibility away from an already overwhelmed police force, they also limit the opportunities for police to escalate already delicate situations.

Scribe file photo by Lexi Petri.