Police Chief Chatman On Public Safety And St. Patrick’s Day

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Chief Chatman
UD Police Chief

I’d like to thank Flyer News for the opportunity and space to address student concerns about our public safety response on St. Patrick’s Day.

We have heard from students that some don’t understand why we decided to issue the order to disperse; why it included everyone on the street, including those who were doing nothing wrong; and why we dressed in protective gear that some found intimidating.

Please know we don’t make these decisions lightly or on a whim, and we make them with one consideration — the safety and security of you, the student, and your community.

During most of St. Patrick’s Day, behavior in the student neighborhood did not require heavy enforcement. Arrests were low and positive student engagement with police officers was high. We weren’t there to prevent students from having fun. If you are 21 and want to responsibly drink adult beverages in your home with your friends, have at it. If it’s a gathering that grows to peacefully spill over onto your porch or lawn, that’s fine, as long as the gathering doesn’t engage in high-risk behavior, respects community standards and civility, and responds promptly and respectfully to police requests, warnings or orders.

But around 2:30 p.m., here’s what we saw: students streaming into the street from backyards and houses, crowds swelling out of control and blocking streets, police officers and students being struck by thrown objects, fireworks being set off in a crowd, students damaging cars parked on the street, and students on rooftops endangering themselves and sometimes throwing objects into the crowd and at police.

These are dangerous, illegal behaviors that threatened the safety and security of you and your community, and we needed to eliminate those threats as quickly and safely as possible to restore order.

We had warned students multiple times about these actions; in fact, the University’s expectations were made clear well before St. Patrick’s Day.

All of our decisions that day were made in consultation with the regional crowd management team, Dayton police and a Dayton city prosecutor. I felt that the first step was to order everyone inside. When students failed to comply, I asked our officers to put on their protective gear to protect them from the flying objects hurled at them and into the crowd while trying to disperse the it. That soon became unsafe, and rather than push forward and risk injury to students and officers, we drew back and asked for reinforcements from the regional crowd management team.

The order was for everyone to vacate the street or be in violation of the law and subject to arrest. This kind of situation is not a time for public safety officers to engage in conversations or explanations about why we’re ordering you to clear the street, and why you must go inside and shut your doors and windows. We needed everyone to comply quickly with the order to disperse. The surest way to bring the situation under control was to move everyone inside.

Yes, this action felt intense, but it was appropriate given the behavior of the crowd and the danger that community members were in. Honestly, we would have preferred not to have had to take that action. Our philosophy is that effective policing of a community requires active involvement with that community. This includes students watching over each other using green dots, common sense and a commitment to community.

Our public safety officers enjoy our positive interactions with students. In fact, we would prefer if students would police themselves, which we know they can do. We are committed to encouraging students to do their part to ensure the student neighborhoods are fun, safe places to learn and live.

We are developing a “community engagement team” of officers who will have an increased presence in the neighborhoods, and will focus on intentional and positive ways to engage with students as part of a comprehensive effort to keep our campus safe.

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We also will continue our active partnership with students by meeting with programs and organizations, making presentations to student groups and offering safety-related programing such as self-defense classes, safety talks and special interest academies. As many of you know, our officers and I stand ready to meet with groups of students at ANY time to proactively discuss matters of safety and enforcement. It is one of the most important (and enjoyable) things that I do.

It bears repeating that the safety and security of this campus community is our goal. That mission supersedes everything else, regardless of any tradition, custom, holiday or day of the week. In order to keep the campus safe — and keep students safe — if we witness behavior that violates the law and/or the code of conduct, it is our duty to take action. We want to work for and with you, not against you.

Photo courtesy of udayton.edu.