UMPD joins other campus police to discuss college free speech issues

The event was put on by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

by Madeline Deninger

Campus law enforcement agencies met at the University of Minnesota’s Recreation and Wellness Center Tuesday to discuss rallies and free speech issues on campus.

The “When Hate Comes to Campus” event, hosted by the University and put on by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, aimed to train campus police on how to handle potential on-campus demonstrations.

The event follows white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia and political clashes at the University of California, Berkeley and elsewhere in the nation over past months. University Police Chief Matt Clark said campus police at the training analyzed recent protests to decide best responses to such incidents. 

“Of course our primary mission is just keeping everybody safe and making sure if somebody does want to protest or have a rally that they can do that without a lot of issues. Protecting people’s First Amendment rights is key for us,” Clark said. “But at the same time you also have to weigh that with lots of public safety needs.”

Along with various campus police departments, Minnesota State Patrol and Metro Transit Police were also in attendance.

UMPD conducts annual training on how to handle rallies, protests and demonstrations, Clark said. But this training session was one of five law enforcement events IACLEA held at college campuses across the country.

Working with organizations like IACLEA helps UMPD approach national issues, Clark said.

“I know that we have to think globally and act locally. In that sense we team up with national associations that bring us the best public safety and policing practices,” he said.

University Sociology Professor Michelle Phelps specializes in crime, law and deviance. Phelps said recent white nationalist demonstrations show a need for campus law enforcement to focus on hate speech as much as physical violence.

“Of course [the violence in Charlottesville] was disturbing, but I was also disturbed that the white nationalist groups were marching through the streets with torches and knives deliberately intimidating, and threatening and provoking black churches and other racial minorities,” she said.

Though Phelps said free speech issues on campus are not new, current events have made them more visible.

“I think one of the things the election of President Trump has done is it’s brought to the forefront a really explicit kind of racism that under the Obama era was at least mostly underground,” she said. “It wasn’t that these kind of extremist groups didn’t exist in the earlier years, but it certainly wasn’t the case that we saw mass demonstrations.”

UMPD Lieutenant Troy Buhta also attended the event. 

Buhta said the event helped officers of different backgrounds share their experiences covering campus free speech issues.

“I think we all learn from each other from different events that have happened across various campuses, and so we were bringing in experts from the field to share our stories with and learn from and see if we can come up with better ways of dealings with things,” Buhta said.